“Everyone has the right to a nationality”

Why Malta needs to accede to the UN Statelessness Conventions

18 February 2015 | Sophia Soares, UNHCR

“If I was granted citizenship now, it would be like having been inside this room for twelve years [referring to a very small and crammed counselling room], and then someone opens the door.” Quis, stateless Syrian Kurd in Malta for 12 years with his family.

Quis’ story is one of those documented in UNHCR’s Mapping Statelessness in Malta report which was officially launched on 4 November 2014, in conjunction with the launch of the Global Campaign to End Statelessness in 10 years. Quis has been residing legally in Malta for 12 years, working and speaking English, yet he is unable to qualify for citizenship. He is one of a small number of persons identified as being stateless in Malta.

Even though Malta is not found to be host to many stateless persons, every individual who is affected faces particular hardships that should not be disregarded. This is why UNHCR encourages Malta to accede to the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons and to the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness (the UN Statelessness Conventions).

Mapping statelessness in Malta

The research for the Mapping Statelessness in Malta report was kick-started in 2013. It includes an analysis of the legal framework relevant to statelessness in Malta, a mapping of the country’s stateless persons as well as consultations with stakeholders and interviews with stateless persons.

A comprehensive number of stakeholders from Government entities and non-governmental organisations, amongst others, were consulted for the specific purpose of collecting information on current practices and procedures concerning statelessness. Stakeholders were cooperative and the report greatly benefits from their specific knowledge of relevant background information and cases which were important to understand the phenomenon in Malta.

UNHCR Malta - with support from UNHCR’s Bureau of Europe - convened a Technical Roundtable on Statelessness in Malta in early 2014 to share preliminary findings with stakeholders. Participants were given an insight into statelessness from a regional and a national perspective before being presented with the preliminary findings of the research which were then discussed and assessed jointly.

The final element of the research for the report consisted of interviews conducted with persons who are or may be stateless in Malta. Their stories are featured throughout the report to present the human face of statelessness in Malta. As a result of engagement with the national media, the Times of Malta reported one such story in June 2014.

The report launch

On 4 November 2014, Mapping Statelessness in Malta was officially launched on UNHCR Malta’s website and a Press Release was issued, together with the electronic version of the report. Several news services reported the launch, some by including elements of the Global Campaign to End Statelessness.

In our Press Release, we emphasise that the Mapping Statelessness in Malta report is the first comprehensive study on this topic in the national context and that we are seeking to encourage the country’s accession to the two UN Statelessness Conventions along with their due implementation.

Alongside this main recommendation, Malta is encouraged to establish an effective statelessness determination procedure which would ensure the identification of and a protection status for stateless persons in its territory. The rights of stateless persons should be upheld in the country and awareness should be raised about statelessness among relevant Government institutions that may encounter stateless persons.

Most importantly, with the necessary political will and public support - as UNHCR Malta Representative Jon Hoisaeter highlights - statelessness is “a problem we can solve” and UNHCR is available to support all stakeholders in Malta to pursue the report’s recommendations.

Once the hard copies of the report were in hand, these were distributed to stakeholders in Malta and abroad. All Maltese newsrooms also received copies and the Public Broadcasting Service decided to follow up with a mini-feature on statelessness during their 8 o’clock news on Saturday 26 December 2014 for which they interviewed a stateless Rohingya man before obtaining comments from UNHCR Malta.

On 9 February 2015, as part of UNHCR Malta’s briefing to the Parliament’s Social Affairs Committee, the issue of statelessness was presented together with the Mapping Statelessness in Malta report as forming part of UNHCR’s mandate activities. Committee members were handed an information pack which included the report and relevant publications such as the IPU/UNHCR “Nationality and Statelessness: Handbook for Parliamentarians” and UNHCR’s “Handbook on Protection of Stateless Persons”.

During this briefing, main points of the report findings were flagged by the UNHCR Malta Representative including the statelessness definition, the global scale of statelessness, ways to address statelessness issues and information about the two UN Statelessness Conventions.

Highlighted findings

In the Malta context, it is particularly important to ensure that statelessness is not directly linked with persons arriving to Malta irregularly and/or undocumented. It is equally important to emphasise that solutions for statelessness in the Malta context are not limited to the grant of nationality to stateless persons although, keeping the naturalisation solution open when appropriate does form part of a comprehensive framework for addressing the issue.

Most of Malta’s domestic legislation is in line with international standards on the prevention of statelessness and some safeguards against statelessness already exist. Serious concerns however remain. These mainly relate to the lack of implementation of a safeguard for children born stateless in Malta, the lack of identification procedures of stateless persons in Malta and the lack of a dedicated protection framework for such persons. There are also shortcomings in the availability and fair process for naturalisation of long term residents.

Due to the fact that stateless persons in Malta currently lack entitlement to a protection status based on their statelessness, they can be left in limbo unless they can regularise their stay based on other grounds (such as by meeting the criteria for recognition as a refugee). A stateless person in Malta without the right to identity and residence documentation may find serious obstacles to access their fundamental rights.

Maltese nationality law leaves open the possibility for children to be born stateless in the country. Most such cases involve parents who are non-nationals and either stateless themselves or unable to confer their citizenship. In some instances, however, the nationality law does not safeguard the automatic conferral of citizenship to children of a Maltese national (whether born in Malta or abroad).

In line with the ENS Campaign to avoid childhood statelessness, UNHCR encourages the Maltese authorities to ensure universal birth registration in order to avoid exposure to the risk of statelessness. The authorities are likewise encouraged to strengthen relevant legal safeguards, ideally also by extending their application to stateless children born or found at sea and later disembarked in Malta.

Looking ahead

Malta is among only four EU Member States (together with Cyprus, Estonia and Poland), which are not party to either of the UN Statelessness Conventions. By following up on the country’s commitment made in 2012 to accede to the 1954 Convention and consider acceding to the 1961 Convention, Malta would underline its commitment to uphold the human rights of all persons in its territory. In addition to strengthening Malta’s national human rights framework, this would simultaneously support global efforts to eradicate statelessness.

In this context, it was encouraging that the Ministry of Home Affairs agreed to send a senior representative from the Department for Citizenship and Expatriates Affairs to the Global Forum on Statelessness which was held at The Hague in September 2014. With the publication of its Mapping Statelessness in Malta report, UNHCR enters a new phase of awareness-raising on the issue among stakeholders in the country and is hopeful that Malta will accede to the 1954 Convention and establish a Statelessness Determination Procedure in the foreseeable future.

 

The full mapping study is available here

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