“Everyone has the right to a nationality”

#IBELONG in Europe - UNHCR launches campaign to end statelessness

6 November 2014 | Vincent Cochetel, UNHCR, Director Bureau for Europe

“You are a shadow here. Just a shadow. You pass by and no-one sees you. You have no rights” – Nusret, a stateless man in Montenegro

UNHCR this week launched our Global Campaign to End Statelessness within ten years. This is an ambitious goal, but one that can be achieved in Europe.

Though not always visible, statelessness is still a reality in Europe in 2014. From Norway to Italy, from Georgia to Ireland, from Russia to Portugal people lack a nationality. An estimated 600,000 stateless people live in Europe today, over 400,000 are in the European Union.

These numbers are considerable, but statelessness is still a hidden issue. Many Europeans are unaware that there are stateless people among their neighbours. UNHCR’s Special Report that accompanies today’s launch puts a human face on stateless people in Europe and around the world.

The campaign site includes a series of video and photo testimonies of stateless people. Their stories show the impact statelessness can have on everyday lives.

What can European leaders do?

In his Open Letter published in the Guardian newspaper, the High Commissioner calls on the leaders of the world to end statelessness.

European leaders have increasingly taken steps and opened their eyes to the problem. Since the 2011 Ministerial meeting where 22 European States pledged to take action on statelessness. At the regional level, UNHCR welcomes the repeated support and attention to statelessness from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. The Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights joined the call for the world’s leaders to end statelessness by signing the Open Letter, as did Astrid Thors, the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities and Professor Alan Miller, the chair of the European Network of National Human Rights Institutions.

But more remains to be done. The EU has been less outspoken about statelessness despite its pledge in 2012 in relation to accession to the two statelessness conventions and action in its external relations. In the two years since that pledge, none of the remaining EU Member States acceded to the 1954 Convention (Cyprus, Estonia, Malta and Poland remain), and Belgium and Lithuania are the only EU Member States that acceded to the 1961 Convention. The online petition with over 7,000 signatures that the European Network on Statelessness (ENS) handed over to representatives of the European Parliament in October was a crucial step in getting more EU stakeholders involved in the global movement, as well as other countries in Europe.

What can states do?

UNHCR’s Global Campaign is supported by our Global Action Plan to End Statelessness. The Global Action Plan sets out steps for states to address the causes of statelessness and to find solutions. In Europe, countries should reduce the numbers of known stateless populations by facilitating their acquisition of nationality. They should ensure stateless people who live in the shadows are identified and protected and they should prevent children from being born stateless in Europe.

The major cause of statelessness in Europe is the fact that many people did not acquire a nationality following the break-up of the former Soviet Union and the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. States concerned can and should take additional legislative and administrative action to address this.

States are encouraged to develop and implement National Action Plans, tailored to each state, setting out detailed strategies. These National Action Plans should be developed through a consultation process which includes the involvement of UNHCR, other UN and development actors, regional bodies where relevant, national institutions, NGOs and the participation of stateless communities.

What can civil society do?

Successful collaboration between UNHCR and civil society has resulted in increased awareness and practical results in countries like the UK, Ireland, Italy and Serbia. With the establishment of the European Network on Statelessness, a new chapter in the civil society movement on statelessness in Europe has begun.

Civil society organisations have an important role to play to make the campaign a success in Europe. A great number of NGOs throughout Europe can be found on our campaign site, ibelong.unhcr.org, so that stateless people who need support can find an organisation to help them.

Civil society organisations can also engage with policy makers and law makers in their capitals and in Brussels calling for the protection of stateless persons and the prevention of statelessness in their countries and for this issue to be added to agendas.

What can you do?

UNHCR invites everyone to join the global movement to end statelessness. Sign the open letter of the High Commissioner, follow developments and share your own experiences, stories, challenges and successes in fighting statelessness. Let us all make sure the hundreds of thousands of stateless persons in Europe enjoy their human right to a nationality and feel that they really do belong.

Join the conversation on Twitter at #IBELONG

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