“Everyone has the right to a nationality”

Working together to end childhood statelessness in Europe

24 November 2016 | Jean Lambert MEP and Manlio Di Stefano PACE Member

Should Europe be doing more to tackle childhood statelessness? Absolutely. To discuss how to push the issue further up the agenda and to find new ways of working together influential actors from the Council of Europe, European Parliament and civil society gathered together on 22 November at an evening reception in Strasbourg to mark the #StatelessKids campaign. ENS’s petition calling on European States to act to prevent children from growing up without a nationality was presented to the EU Parliament’s Petition’s Committee and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on behalf of more than 22,000 signatories.

From a social and humanitarian point of view we all know that the failure to ensure that every child enjoys the right to a nationality has serious consequences on children, their families and on society as a whole. Statelessness brings with it discrimination, denial of access to education, health care, housing and employment. It exacerbates the problems faced by people who are for the most part already socially vulnerable. Addressing the question of statelessness at the earliest age should prevent the persistence of such problems and situations of discrimination into adulthood. Children who have the right to become citizens can truly belong in and contribute to society.

Globally, up to 70,000 children are born into statelessness each year. As far as Europe is concerned some stateless people arrive as refugees and asylum-seekers. But as was pointed out in a report published by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe for which Manlio Di Stefano was rapporteur (“The need to eradicate statelessness of children”) the majority of Europe’s stateless were born and live in Europe. Moreover, many would not be stateless today if all European countries had comprehensive safeguards against childhood statelessness as required by international law.

This is an issue that truly requires a holistic approach. Only if all countries are convinced that statelessness is to be avoided, will there be any chance of eradicating this fundamental rights violation once and for all. It is therefore critical to look at what more the European Parliament and the Council of Europe could be doing to work with and support of Member States to tackle the issue in the most effective way possible, and indeed what more the EU and Council of Europe could be doing in its own right.

But first, a look at what is being done

The European Parliament has already adopted strong calls for action for European member states on identifying stateless persons through effective stateless determination procedures, the sharing of good practice between Member States and to ensure that national legislation provides for the granting of nationality to every child born on their territory who would otherwise be stateless.

Thanks to the work of organisations like the European Network on Statelessness (ENS), and UNHCR, important progress has been made in the past couple of years in pushing the issue up the political agenda and drawing policy makers’, stakeholders’, and the public’s attention to the devastating impacts being stateless has on a person’s life.

Along with colleagues in the Parliament, particularly from the cross party 'Intergroup' on children's rights, and the Civil Liberties Committee (LIBE) we are working to raise the profile of the issue in the Parliament.

As a follow up to the study commissioned by the Parliament's LIBE committee and the petition lodged by ENS to the European Parliament’s Petitions Committee, in 2017 the two committees will hold a hearing to follow up on the European Council conclusions on statelessness, adopted in 2015. The hearing will provide an opportunity to discuss the links between statelessness and the current migration crisis, including the heightened risk of statelessness faced by the children of refugees, and the creation of a soon to be launched statelessness platform of the European Migration Network to provide a platform for the sharing of best practices between Member States.

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe published a report in March this year (and adopted a Resolution 2099 (2016)), in which the choice was made to name those countries not signatories to the Council of Europe’s 2006 Convention on Avoidance of Statelessness and the 1961 UN Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, as well as those countries whose legislation does not contain sufficient safeguards against childhood statelessness, in accordance, for instance, with the case law of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. This was done with the aim of showing states that they need to better address the risks of statelessness. 

As a result, the Parliamentary Assembly has called on Council of Europe member states to review their law and policy frameworks to bring national law into compliance with the international instruments and standards and to ensure that national legislation provides for the granting of nationality to every child born on their territory who would otherwise be stateless.

What needs to be done

In these challenging times, we need to continue working together to ensure that best practice becomes standard practice in every state.

In this area as in others, working together means close collaboration, such as that between the Council of Europe Migration Committee, European Parliament, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and civil society organisations. In promoting the establishment or reinforcement of existing statelessness determination procedures, for instance, the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly recommends that states use the guidelines of the UNHCR to ensure identification, protection and ultimately facilitated naturalisation.

Parliamentarians of both houses (Council of Europe and European Union) need to work together to counter the fear and mistrust which exist at the national level and which are being manipulated to re-introduce policies we thought were behind us. Because despite the sobering lessons of the 20th century, imposed statelessness is creeping back, not only as an additional means of punishment for those who have acted violently against our democracies, but also as additional discrimination against minorities and as an undeserved extra burden for people whose only crime is that they, or their parents, have left their countries of origin and abandoned their nationality in order to survive. 

Along with our colleagues who gathered this week in Strasbourg at the ENS event, we stand ready to continue to raise the profile of the issue, demand action, and to ensure that stateless children in Europe are not forgotten.

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