“Everyone has the right to a nationality”

Shining a light on devastating effects of statelessness on those living without nationality in Slovenia

1 February 2019 | Katarina Vučko, The Peace Institute

The Peace Institute – Institute for Contemporary Social and Political Studies (PI) is a Slovenian private, independent, non-profit research institution founded in 1991. Our mission is to create an open society capable of critical thought and based on the principles of equality, responsibility, solidarity, human rights and the rule of law.

The Peace Institute has ever since its foundation worked to address issues ignored by the mainstream and acted as an ally to vulnerable groups working in partnership with them. One such topic is statelessness. While statelessness has not received extensive attention in Slovenia and was mostly ignored by the authorities and civil society alike, the Peace Institute conducted pioneering research on the issue starting in 2007, followed by legal analysis and mapping studies in 2012. We joined European Network on Statelessness (ENS) and cooperated on several initiatives, including the 2015 #StatelessKids study on childhood statelessness and recently the Statelessness Index.

Slovenia’s erased citizens

Through its work the Peace Institute, encountered several cases of stateless individuals, while providing legal assistance to Erased residents of Slovenia. In 1992 the newly independent Republic of Slovenia deliberately erased some 25.000 legal residents from other parts of the former Yugoslavia from its residency registers. There was a short window of opportunity when non-Slovenian residents could apply for citizenship, but the concerned persons were not warned of the consequences of not applying. Then, on 26 February 1992 they were erased from the registers and turned into illegal residents. Only around 11.000 managed to regularize their status, despite a number of Constitutional Court decisions declaring the erasure illegal. Most others were forced to leave the country, but others stayed in Slovenia without any status or rights. Some ended up stateless, while others held papers of a country they never lived in. For an insight into their lives you can read a compilation of online stories as told by those erased.

The devastating effects to their lives did not elicit much reaction from the authorities and they refused to address the Erasure for twenty years. The Peace Institute supported a group of affected people directly and at the same time played a part in the legal proceedings before the European Court of Human Rights. The Court ruled in favour of the applicants and ordered that Slovenia takes measures to compensate the victims. While ECtHR judgement brought compensations to the Erased, it unfortunately, did not bring any changes to the ineffective legal measures Slovenia adopted for reinstating the status Erased individuals were illegally deprived of. At this point more than a half of all Erased people are not any closer to getting their permanent residence status back. Slovenia also categorically denies any responsibility towards the Erased that were left stateless.

Towards better protection for stateless people

The authorities consider the ratification of the 1961 UN Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, the European Convention on Nationality or the 2006 Council of Europe Convention on the Avoidance of Statelessness, unnecessary. They believe that the main principles are already included in the national legislation on citizenship. However, research shows that important gaps remain in respect of the safeguards contained in these international conventions. One such example was exposed in the Ending Childhood Statelessness study and includes children born in Slovenia to parents who have citizenship of another state which they cannot confer to the child – these children are not protected against statelessness under the current legislation.

Working with ENS on the Stateless Index helped us approach statelessness in a comprehensive and yet concise manner. The results clearly reveal other problematic areas that need to be addressed. For that to be possible, Slovenia needs to improve the recording of statelessness, complemented by a comprehensive mapping study. The scarce available data on the stateless population in Slovenia shows a small group of stateless people in Slovenia, but since there is no statelessness determination procedures, the numbers are very likely to be an underrepresentation, often not including groups that have been disproportionally exposed to statelessness (especially the Roma and Erased persons).

Slovenia also needs to do more to protect stateless people from arbitrary detention. Under the Constitution a proportionality test must be carried out when deciding to detain, but in practice, a country of removal may not be identified prior to detaining, and alternatives to detention are not routinely considered. Legal aid is not available when challenging detention decisions. Statelessness is not considered a juridically relevant fact in decisions to detain and stateless people are detained in practice.

While it was hard to tackle statelessness with those in power who were denying any responsibility for Erasure and the violations suffered by the Erased, new generations of politicians and public officials might be less hostile. However, it is often perceived that the scale of the problem in Slovenia is too small to be of relevance, with much ignorance of the problems stateless people face in their everyday life. For that reason it is important to engage new stakeholders and inform them of the issue. As much as it is important to engage new(er) political actors and the new government formed in 2018, it is also necessary to include the civil society stakeholders. Particularly organisations working with refugees who might overlook cases of statelessness if not equipped with information. The Statelessness Index is an effective tool that will help us inform new audiences and create new partnerships necessary to achieve changes. It provides a relevant foundation for our recommendations to the Slovenian authorities: most importantly, the ratification of the 1961 UN Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, development of a dedicated statelessness determination procedure and a stateless status granting the right to work, study and facilitated naturalisation.

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