“Everyone has the right to a nationality”

Addressing the human insecurity of stateless people: Complimenting our legal advocacy with a development approach

1 May 2013 | Jason Tucker, University of Bath and visiting scholar Statelessness Programme, Tilburg Law School

Since the beginning of the year I have been working on trying to explore the role that development and humanitarian organisations are or could be playing in alleviating the suffering of the stateless. While the strategy to secure citizenship for the stateless should remain a key concern, we have to accept that realizing this solution for some stateless populations is proving in reality to be a rather long term project. While the short term impacts of statelessness on an individual’s human and income security can be devastating, this is only exacerbated in protracted stateless situations. One shocking example is that of the dire poverty and cases of extreme malnutrition faced by the Rohingya of Burma.  While it is unacceptable that people live their whole lives being stateless, we have to be realistic and accept that some situations will not improve in the short, medium or even long term. It is therefore crucial that we find alternative short and medium term pragmatic approaches to alleviate the suffering of the stateless that complement other legal work. This is where development and humanitarian initiatives can play a role. If we consider the chronic food insecurity of some stateless populations and the extreme poverty that blights many of their lives we can begin to see how such an approach is desperately needed.  

To begin to explore how this would work I wrote a discussion piece called ‘The Humanitarian Side of Statelessness; Statelessness within the Framework of the Millennium Development Goals’. This piece showed how statelessness related to each of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and how by not mainstreaming these populations we are not only doing a disservice to the stateless (as some of the world’s poorest) but are also detrimentally affecting other development targets.  From this initial study I wished to further explore specific areas of the development discourse and how statelessness is or can be situated within it. To do so I turned to several organisations in the United Kingdom to present my piece and these discussions proved to be enlightening. The Center for Development Studies at the University of Bath, being my own institution, was my first port of call. The centre, which is dedicated to the issue of development, comprises anthropologists, economists, geographers, political scientists and sociologists, allowing me to pick the brains of a plethora of skill-sets and expertise. The issue of the causes of statelessness and the differing levels and severity of needs faced by the population arose. Discussion revolved around the problem that selling statelessness as a distinct stand alone issue to development organisations would be futile. Instead stateless populations who can be assisted should be considered based on the principles of need and pragmatic concerns of the tractability of initiatives.

Following this I met with Development Initiatives: an organisation focusing on research and analysis of development aid to inform policy makers and hold them to account. During this discussion, the lack of data on the stateless was highlighted as a major barrier not only in terms of ensuring that the stateless received the benefits of aid but also as a means to inform policy makers.  During discussion with Michael Sanderson and some students at the University of Exeter, one of the topics was the issue of implementing effective advocacy strategies. As with the Centre for Development Studies, the need to link the situations faced by stateless populations to the specific goals and mandates of individual development organisations was raised as being the key to success.

In line with the advice to make the link between statelessness and development initiatives more specific, I turned my attention to micro-finance institutions. The blog post ‘Stateless people and microfinance intuitions’ explores how micro-finance schemes could be a means by which we can start addressing the lack of income security faced by many stateless people. These schemes are tailored to give greater access to financial services to poor populations who often suffer from similar issues as the stateless, such as lacking any form of identification document.

The more I explore the need and potential for development organisations and initiatives to work with the stateless, the clearer it becomes that such short and medium term strategies will not just run alongside our efforts to push for solutions for statelessness. Instead they could play a crucial role in our advocacy work for law reform, citizenship campaigns or naturalization programmes. For example through micro finance initiatives and the subsequent increase in financial independence, security and prosperity of the stateless persons issues such as naturalizing the stateless being viewed as putting an extra burden on state resources can be shown to be baseless in some situations. Further to this, such schemes would also encourage interaction greater between stateless and local resident populations, which could reduce socio-political resistance to resolving statelessness and post-resolution integration.  In the European setting this would involve assisting those rendered stateless with the dissolution of the U.S.S.R and members of the Roma community who have found themselves in a protracted stateless situation. If we consider the positive impacts such development initiatives could have for our legal advocacy work, along with the potential improvement of the daily lives of the stateless, I think that incorporating development initiatives would allow us to have a more holistic approach to tackling statelessness and the negative impacts being stateless has on millions of peoples’ lives.      

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