UNHCR commemorates 2 years of the #IBelong campaign to eradicate global statelessness


UNHCR commemorates 2 years of the #IBelong campaign to eradicate global statelessness

UNHCR, 27 Oct 2016

DAKAR, SENEGAL, 27 October 2016 (UNHCR) – Significant progress has been made to eradicate statelessness around the world, but ongoing conflicts are putting those advances at risk. Marking the second anniversary of the global #IBelong Campaign to End Statelessness, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Mr. Filippo Grandi, renewed the call today for a concerted effort by the international community to put an end to statelessness – a human rights injustice that affects at least 10 million people globally, including at least one million in West Africa. Stateless people do not have a nationality or any documentation proving their nationality which makes them invisible to the eyes of the law and hence extremely vulnerable.

Since the #IBelong Campaign was launched in 2014 with the ambition of wiping out statelessness by 2024, members of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS*) have strongly committed to end this plight in the region. 12 countries out of 15 in West Africa have acceded to both the 1954 and 1961 Conventions that contain measures to help prevent and reduce statelessness. The most recent countries to accede to the Conventions are Burkina Faso this month, Guinea Bissau in September, and Sierra Leone and Mali in May.

“UNHCR welcomes these commitments to fight statelessness that are reverberating throughout Africa” said Liz Ahua, UNHCR Regional Representative for West Africa. “Men, women and children who are constantly exposed to discrimination and lack of access to basic services because they are not recognised by law as citizens of any country will finally be able to access and enjoy their fundamental rights”

By adopting the Abidjan Declaration in February 2015, ECOWAS Member States had agreed to be parties to the statelessness Conventions, as well as to undertake concrete actions to prevent and reduce statelessness. These measures range from ensuring birth registration to reforming nationality laws in compliance with international standards.

However, there are still important challenges in the ECOWAS region. “Birth registration remains low in many countries, preventing individuals from claiming a nationality”, says Emmanuelle Mitte, UNHCR statelessness expert for West Africa. “Compounding this problem, some children cannot acquire a nationality at birth because some laws impose racial limitations or prevent their mothers from passing on their nationality to them.”

In general, nationality laws in the region – which is prone to migration movements – do not fully incorporate norms that prevent statelessness. For instance, children born in an ECOWAS country to migrants’ parents originating from another West Africa country are sometimes unable to acquire nationality at birth. ECOWAS countries agreed to collaborate with UNHCR to end such situations, and jointly organized fact-finding mission, studies, and joint awareness-raising campaigns.

Following the adoption of the Abidjan Declaration, almost all countries in the region have developed plans of action. Ten countries are in the process of revising their nationality laws while others have started issuing identity or nationality papers to undocumented people on their territories. So far, 45,000 stateless people or at risk of statelessness have received identity documents in West Africa since the Abidjan Declaration, including 34,000 birth certificates mainly in Benin, Côte d’Ivoire and Mali; 10,550 nationality certificates have been issued in Côte d’Ivoire.

Countries such as Liberia and Sierra Leone, for instance, are also at the forefront of the fight against statelessness. Liberia is in the process of reviewing its nationality laws which contains, up to now, racial and gender discrimination components; and Sierra Leone is reforming its Constitution to adapt it to international norms including those related to statelessness.

“Invisible is the word most commonly used to describe what it is like to be without a nationality”, said Mr. Grandi. “For stateless children and youth, being ‘invisible’ can mean missing out on educational opportunities, being marginalised in the playground, being ignored by healthcare providers, being overlooked when it comes to employment opportunities, and being silenced if they question the status quo.”

In the coming year, one of the key activities of UNHCR’s #IBelong Campaign will be to encourage States to remove all forms of discrimination, including gender discrimination, from nationality laws in order to prevent similar situations from arising in the future.

* ECOWAS countries are: Bénin, Burkina Faso, Cap-Vert, Côte d’Ivoire, Gambie, Ghana, Guinée, Guinée Bissau, Libéria, Mali, Niger, Nigéria, Sénégal, Sierra Leone, Togo