“Everyone has the right to a nationality”

New #RomaBelong research documents the effects of statelessness on Roma living in Ukraine and sets recommendation on how to tackle it

28 September 2018 | Mykhailo Sorochyshyn, The Tenth of April

Even though Ukraine was among the first post-Soviet countries to adopt its own legislation on citizenship, the issue of statelessness continues to be unresolved. The issue is both little-known and extremely detrimental to the wellbeing of those who find themselves without a nationality – this is especially true for members of minority groups.

Our new research published earlier this week in partnership with the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC), European Network on Statelessness (ENS) and Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion warns that Roma in Ukraine remain caught between rising violence in the country, institutional racism, and state policy failings, and are being further marginalised by the risk of statelessness.

The main findings were presented at a launch event in Odessa attended by government ministers, UN officials, and Romani people affected by the risk of statelessness. The joint research shows how pervasive negative stereotypes against Roma make them vulnerable to the risk of statelessness in Ukraine, and how statelessness exacerbates the multiple types of discrimination faced by Romani people in the country.

Patterns of statelessness in Ukraine indicate that it most often affects specific groups of the population and that inadequate and inconsistent legislation exacerbate the problem. In general, Ukrainian legislation on citizenship is based on the principle of jus sanguinis, but those who could prove permanent residence at the time of independence in 1991, were given the possibility to acquire citizenship rights. However, those who did not have permanent residence in Ukraine as of 1991 or don’t have the documents to prove their residence, are often at risk of statelessness. 

Lack of documentation is a major risk factor for statelessness among Roma. In most cases, Roma have the right to Ukrainian nationality under the Law, but without documents, they often cannot evidence their right. Therefore, under the current national legal framework of Ukraine, a child born to undocumented parents would inherit the lack of documentation, and, as a result, (risk of) statelessness.

Furthermore, discrimination is both a cause and a consequence of statelessness amongst Roma in Ukraine. This is worsened by a lack of engagement by the Ukrainian authorities on the issue of statelessness, and indeed on the general welfare of Romani people as a national minority. In the context of rising violence against Roma by far-right organisations, the Ukrainian Government must now commit to urgent action to address the discrimination, poverty and statelessness faced by Romani people in Ukraine.

The absence of data related to both statelessness, and the Roma population, is symptomatic of the invisibility of the issue in Ukraine.  Our research found few successful efforts by Ukrainian authorities to address the systemic lack of documentation to prove permanent residence that many Roma are forced to live with. Additionally, burdensome bureaucracy disproportionately disadvantages Roma due to their marginalisation, and an inadequate policy framework undermines full implementation of Ukraine’s international and national legal obligations to guarantee non-discrimination, birth registration, the right to nationality, the identification and protection of stateless persons, and the prevention of statelessness.

On 8 April 2013, a Presidential Decree introduced a national Strategy on the protection and integration of the Roma national minority in Ukrainian society up to 2020. The Strategy prescribes measures on the elimination of Roma statelessness. However, no direct action has been taken by the Ukrainian authorities to implement these measures to date. The issues raised in our research can only be resolved with the active participation and engagement of civil society and Roma communities.

In light of the research findings, we make two immediate recommendations to the Ukrainian Government: simplify the procedures to confirm Ukrainian citizenship, and make birth registration and documentation procedures easily accessible to all. Currently there seems to be no urgency in Ukraine to tackle prejudice and discrimination, from which many of these problems arise. Until a commitment is made to meaningfully engage with the underlying marginalisation and persecution of this ethnic minority, statelessness in Ukraine will continue to be an issue that plagues Roma.

The report is part of the #RomaBelong joint initiative that aims to better understand and address Romani statelessness (and risk of statelessness) in European Union candidate and neighbourhood countries in the Western Balkans (Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia), and Ukraine. The research was carried out in 2016–2017 and involved extended interviews with Roma individuals, government officials, activists, NGOs, and UN agencies.

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