“Everyone has the right to a nationality”

My mission impossible: Describing statelessness in Macedonia in 1.113 words

11 September 2015 | Martina Smilevska, Macedonian Young Lawyers Association

I know that Ethan Hunt`s troubles to solve the issues of its spy agency in the five series of Mission Impossible are not to be compared with my struggle to explain what statelessness means in the Macedonian context, but to be honest, being a lawyer, explaining such a complex and not widely known phenomena to a wider audience, does represent a challenge. In order to make it easier (for me), I`ll focus this blog entry solely on one single aspect of the statelessness issue- the connection between birth registration and risk of statelessness in Macedonia. For the curious ones among you, the various other aspects of, as I already said, this complex issue in my country (and many other countries) can be read in the full report “Ending Childhood Statelessness: A Study on Macedonia” available on the ENS website along with seven other country studies.

In order to make this reading interesting (for you), let me introduce to you Erbu, a cute little girl, who was born in hospital in Veles in 2006. Her family celebrates her birthday each year, even though the fact of her birth was never registered into the Birth Registry. Therefore, in reality, Erbu exists, lives, goes to school, draws paintings, dreams to be hairdresser and grows by 1/2 inch each month, even if she doesn`t possess a birth certificate or a recognized nationality. Why doesn’t she? Well, due to the fact that her mother is a person with undetermined nationality, who does not possess an identification card, nor a residence permit. Even though Ebru’s father is a Macedonian citizen which should in theory entitle her to Macedonian citizenship by descent, due to administrative obstacles (namely that the Macedonian authorities require the mother of a child to have a valid ID document in order to register the birth of her child) she has lived for eight years without a legal identity: she does not have medical insurance, her parents can’t receive social financial assistance for her and she is legally invisible. Erbu is what we lawyers in Macedonia call a second generation person at risk of statelessness. Luckily for her, she is attending elementary school and she was issued a certificate that she finished first grade last year. However, what will happen when she grows up? Will she be able to get a regular job without having a birth certificate (which is a condition sine qua non for an identification document)? Will she be able toapply for a driver’s license? Get married to the boy she likes? Register the birth of her own children? Well, if we don`t try to change something, I seriously doubt it!

Erbu`s and many other children`s problem in Macedonia can be simplified as this: If your mother is Macedonian and possesses a valid ID card, your birth can be easily registered in the birth registry book. Congratulations!!! You have won the nationality lottery (even if you never wished to play this “game”)! You are now officially a Macedonian citizen! However, if your mother does not possess a valid ID card, your access to birth registration will be obstructed and you`ll face difficulties in obtaining Macedonian citizenship.

By now you probably ask yourself why  is this happening. Why there is a problem, where in theory there shouldn`t be any? Why the simple fact of birth registration is at all related with the question of nationality? Birth registration is essential not just in proving a person’s legal identity and existence in Macedonia, but also due to the fact that birth registration provides proof of descent and of place of birth, and therefore is a legal requirement for citizenship to be determined. When the registration of birth is conducted by the Ministry of Justice, according to the evidence presented by the parents and the ex officio communication with the Ministry of Interior (meaning that both a registry officer and citizenship officer consider the case), simultaneously with the issuance of the birth certificate, the child is registered as a citizen of the Republic of Macedonia. The acquisition of citizenship is considered to be automatic due to the fact that no special decision for granting nationality is being issued. The problem arises with children born to undocumented parents of undetermined or unknown citizenship, who are unable to complete their birth registration. They are at risk of statelessness to the extent that this makes it difficult to prove where they were born and who their parents are, which may mean that they will be unable to in turn prove their nationality. Most children without birth registration are not stateless, but where children are born in circumstances that might cause statelessness, such as born to marginalised minorities who face difficulties accessing citizenship, lack of birth registration can result in statelessness.

So, if you have read this far, you are most probably another statelessness “addict”, or just a concerned human being. In both cases you ask yourself a simple question: How on earth can we prevent statelessness from being passed on to successive generations in cases where the obvious obstacle is the sole act of inscription of the child`s birth?

There are few simple things that we as a country (Macedonia) must do:

  • Implement children’s right to a nationality in such a way that the best interests of the child are observed.

  • Develop and implement a comprehensive state strategy which includes facilitated birth registration, changes in the legislation, especially the Law on Registry Records, and even consider introducing separate administrative procedure for determining the identity of the person for certain specific cases;

  • Find appropriate ways to more frequently and continuously inform citizens of their responsibility to register the birth of the child, and especially educate about the consequences or limited possibilities for realization of the fundamental rights of the child if he/she is not registered;

  • Ensure coordination of the activities of relevant stakeholders, particularly between registry offices, police, medical institutions, schools where often undocumented children are enrolled and NGOs, and jointly find solutions to overcome this problem.

  • Commit to further implementing the Zagreb Declaration on the Provision of Civil Status and Registration in South East Europe and EXCOM conclusions on civil registration.

    At the very end of this entry (or the very beginning of solving what is to me, more challenging than Ethan Hunt`s Mission Impossible) is the fact that we as a country, NGOs, people, must not turn a blind eye on the fact that many children, living in poverty, marginalization and discrimination grow up believing that basic human rights are a luxury given to many, but not to them. We must continue the “statelessness debate” on different levels- from policy to legal, and raise awareness that all these children never choose to be stateless, nameless, countless. We live in an age of human rights activism, so let’s react, help and advocate, because if we don`t, we`ll become less and less and less of ourselves …

This piece is one of a series of ENS blogs themed around its campaign “None of Europe’s Children Should be Stateless”. The research study in Macedonia is one of eight country studies that ENS has commissioned across Europe. Visit the ENS website here if you wish to read other country studies or find out more about ENS’s recent conference in Budapest or the resulting action statement which is intended as a guide for collective efforts to end the scourge of childhood statelessness. ENS’s next campaign event in Strasbourg on 21 September will see the Network launch its new report “No Child Should be Stateless” – see here for more information.

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