“Everyone has the right to a nationality”

A growing voice - Network building in Brussels and at UNHCR's NGO Consultations in Geneva

13 July 2012 | Chris Nash, International Protection Policy Coordinator at Asylum Aid

Following the launch of our website we have been working hard to spread the word about the European Network on Statelessness (ENS), including through holding briefing events for civil society actors in Brussels and in Geneva. Both events were well attended, and resulted in several organisations applying to join the Network.

It is really encouraging that within a matter of weeks the Network has over 15 new members – confirmation of the desire among civil society to join together to tackle the issue of statelessness. Our new members span a broad spectrum from large international NGOs to smaller grassroots organizations - legal advice agencies, research and policy outfits, frontline service providers, detention specialists and several prominent international law experts.

The briefing event in Brussels was kindly hosted by the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE), a fellow network which has been very supportive of the development of ENS. At the event there was a shared recognition around the table that hitherto statelessness has been a relatively neglected issue given how often it occurs in a migratory context. Many participants confirmed that they had clients who urgently needed a solution to their situation.

Statelessness was also high on the agenda at last week’s UNHCR’s NGO consultations in Geneva – a forum for civil society organisations from across the globe to come together to discuss pressing protection issues among themselves, as well as with representatives from UNHCR.

At the start of the Consultations a side meeting was hosted by UNHCR’s Statelessness Unit to enable a strategic discussion with a number of key NGOs already actively specialising on statelessness work. This included a briefing on the European Network on Statelessness. As well as raising awareness about ENS among European organisations present at the meeting, it also provided a useful opportunity to reflect on how the Network could potentially serve as a model  for similar regional initiatives in other parts of the world. Also to explore ways to better share existing resources and experience between NGOs already working on the issue in different countries and regions. It was recognized that improved information-sharing would improve our collective capability to recognize potential opportunities, where appropriate, for a possible global campaign on a particular thematic issue or problem.

The following day a dedicated session on statelessness was on the formal agenda of the NGO Consultations – organised  by the Open Society Justice Initiative, and attended by over 70 delegates. Interactive workshops enabled detailed discussion on a variety of themes.  These included steps required to better protect stateless persons through proper determination procedures as well as ways to guard against their arbitrary detention. Also various recommendations were identified to help prevent and reduce statelessness, including by tackling discriminatory nationality laws and improving birth registration.

The session also provided an opportunity to reflect on how civil society organisations can play a role in encouraging States to follow up on the impressive volume of statelessness-related pledges made at the Ministerial Meeting organised by UNHCR last November to mark the 50th Anniversary of the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness.

It was therefore appropriate that the Consultations ended on a day which saw the Human Rights Council adopt a new Resolution on the right to nationality, particularly relating to women and children. Seen alongside another Human Rights Council Resolution on the arbitrary deprivation of nationality, this emphasizes the need for ENS to work closely not only with UNHCR but also with a range of partners, including the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in order to support concerted and effective international efforts to tackle statelessness. ENS stands ready to do this.

Anyone interested in joining the European Network on Statelessness should contact ENS Coordinator Chris Nash at info@statelessness.eu  or visit our website at www.statelessness.eu    

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