“Everyone has the right to a nationality”

Generations without Nationality

24 May 2012 | By: Milijana Trifkovic, Legal Analyst, Praxis

Two statelessness-related events took place in Belgrade this April, with an aim to greet Serbia’s recent accession to the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness and once again remind the public of the problem of persons not recognized as citizens of any country.

First, Greg Constantine’s exhibition Nowhere People opened on 2 April – a series of captivating photos that depicted the unforgettable faces and stories of some of the world’s most vulnerable stateless groups. Each of those moving pictures was followed by an even more moving explanation about deprivation that stateless communities face because of denied nationality. Greg Constantine himself flawlessly introduced their plight with Hannah Arendt’s words equating their state of being “stripped of citizenship” with a state of “being stripped of worldliness”.

On the following day, a seminar on statelessness took place at the Belgrade Faculty of Law. The seminar was initiated by UNCHR as a part of the Refugee Legal Clinic project where the sixth generation of students of this programme had an opportunity to learn about the essence and scope of this problem in the world from experts in this field – Laura van Waas, Senior Researcher and Manager of the Statelessness Programme at the Tilburg Law School, and Mirna Adjami, Senior Statelessness Advisor at UNHCR HQ in Geneva. On the other side, Davor Rako from UNHCR Serbia Legal Protection Unit and Ivanka Kostic, Praxis Executive Director, explained how this problem affects Serbia, introduced Praxis’ and UNCHR’s activities related to persons at risk of statelessness, and, above all, clarified who persons at risk of statelessness in Serbia are.

Among those persons, we can find those who had once been registered in citizenship registry books, but these records were destroyed. Others are facing difficulties in proving the fact of their birth and origin. Even though they mostly do have a connection with a country which is sufficient for acquiring citizenship, and the “only” step separating them from acquiring the nationality is going through various procedures, many do not manage to make that step – to prove their earlier registration in citizenship registry books or their identity and origin.

The plight is even more serious among those who have a connection with more than one country. Their difficulties can be easily shown in the following Praxis case – the case of Behara, her daughter Ajsha and grandson Rahman.

Behara is from Macedonia, but has lived in Serbia since the 1980’s. After the dissolution of former Yugoslavia, she couldn`t acquire Serbian citizenship because of the impossibility of registering her residence. Later she discovered that she was not registered as a Macedonian citizen either. Behara’s daughter Ajsha grew up undocumented. Two years ago, she finally obtained a birth certificate, but remained without citizenship – because of her mother’s unresolved status. While still undocumented, Ajsha gave birth to her son Rahman. The procedure of his registration is still on-going but its outcome and Rahman’s nationality status remain unpredictable. The answer to the question of Rahman’s nationality could be given only after the citizenship of his mother Ajsa is determined, which will be possible only after the determination of her mother Behara’s citizenship. In order to determine Behara’s citizenship, it is first necessary to determine her parents’ citizenship. But they passed away and only their names are known. The final answer to the question about Rahman’s and Ajsha’s citizenship lies somewhere among the four generations of persons with no determined citizenship, connections with the two countries and endless difficulties with proving the citizenship of Rahman’s grandmother and Ajsha’s mother Behara whose undetermined citizenship triggered a whole series. As long as this uncertainty lasts, they are deprived of basic human rights.

Behara, Rahman and Ajsha are only three out of some 3,000 persons identified by Praxis who face similar risks.

Turning back again to the aforementioned seminar, both Laura van Waas and Mirna Adjami have pointed out that a significant part of the fight against statelessness is its identification, as well as the prevention of statelessness among those who are in danger of remaining without a nationality. Similar motivation lies behind Praxis’ attempts to make visible the problems of people like Ajsha, Rahman and Behara – it comes from convictions that the prevention of statelessness and full respect for the right to a nationality will be possible only if all those whose right to a nationality is being violated are made visible and if we keep on striving to find ways to improve the position of all those who are unprotected due to their disputed nationality. Behara’s case depicts how easily one unresolved nationality status may lead to new generations of persons whose basic human rights are denied because of vague nationality and warns us how important it is to react before someone is permanently “stripped of worldliness”.

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