“Everyone has the right to a nationality”

#StatelessnessINDEX – a new tool to raise awareness on gaps in French law, policy and practice

1 November 2018 | Cécile Queval, European Advocacy Officer - Forum réfugiés - Cosi

Forum réfugiés-Cosi has been working in defense of the right to seek asylum and on reception of asylum seekers and refugees in France since 1982. While statelessness is not explicitly written into our core mission, it is an issue of concern given the nexus between forced migration and statelessness. Since 2012, we’ve worked to support the essential work of the European Network on Statelessness to promote the right of all individuals to a nationality and to advocate for the full protection of stateless persons’ human rights in France. As part of this collaboration, Forum réfugiés-Cosi has actively participated in the Statelessness Index Project to create and maintain a country profile on France.

This unique tool not only allows for easier access to information on how statelessness is addressed by European countries, but it also questions national protection mechanisms thanks to its comparison feature. While France is the first country to develop a statelessness determination procedure and is usually presented as a model student, the Index highlights important gaps and areas where improvement in policy, law and practice is needed. The Index’s comprehensive and detailed approach allows us to design a more informed advocacy strategy and to be more precise when planning actions to address statelessness.

France established the first statelessness determination statute procedure in 1952 under the responsibility of the French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons (OFPRA). Stateless persons have a right to appeal and those recognized as stateless get a residence permit with the right to a travel document. The law requires that detention is a last resort and there are provisions to prevent statelessness, including among children born on the territory or to nationals abroad. However, key gaps remain important during the statute determination procedure. Applicants for stateless status have no legal right to stay, nor right to social assistance. There is no time limit to process the request, and there is no simplified route to naturalization. Consequently, many cases potentially identified as stateless prefer to put in an asylum application, as it brings more security and support during the duration of the procedure.

France collects and publishes disaggregated data on the statelessness determination procedure and stateless refugees, and some limited data on the acquisition of nationality and residence permits by stateless people. However, it does not capture statelessness in the census, and in some cases, officials attribute a nationality to people who leave this question unanswered. There is no official data on stateless people in detention. This lack of key data helps perpetuate misunderstandings and underestimates the challenges to address it. Identification of stateless persons remains the first step to protect their rights but also to better understand causes and solutions.

The recent national asylum and immigration law voted in at the beginning of August 2018 introduces a change in the stateless status. Recognized stateless people, their spouse and children will now be granted a multi-year permit valid for 4 years, instead of the previous one-year “private and family life” permit renewable twice. They will have access to a resident permit valid for 10 years after 4 years of residence in France, instead of 3 years before. This legal reform helps secure a more long-term solution for stateless people. Despite this, more needs to be done to better address statelessness in France, including to reintroduce statelessness in the public and political debate as a key protection issue. France is still not party to three of the four core statelessness conventions.

In bringing all this information together for the first time, the Index is a crucial tool which will help build future advocacy strategies to promote stateless persons’ rights. Forum réfugiés-Cosi will continue its work to better respond to the needs and defend the rights of stateless people. As part of our work in collaboration with ENS, we are hosting a conference entitled “Protection of stateless people in France and in Europe”, which will be an opportunity to present the Index data, to reflect on the current situation and to discuss future policy changes. The conference will take place on 22 November and will include participants from UNHCR, the Ministry of the Interior, French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons and ENS - for more information about the event and to register please click here. We are also working on the Index update and will produce a country briefing targeted at civil servants in order to raise awareness of the key gaps which need to be addressed. Closely linked to its core work on asylum, Forum réfugiés-Cosi will keep highlighting the contradictory situation faced by stateless people when they apply through the statelessness determination procedure, and the importance of improving data collection to capture stateless people in the census and in detention centers.

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