Around the world, minorities are at particular risk of statelessness. In fact, two-thirds of the world’s stateless populations belong to minority groups. Across Europe, many Roma still struggle to assert their nationality, while in the Baltic States hundreds of thousands of people from the ethnic Russian population remain stateless.
Ending statelessness is a priority for Roma equality in Europe
Living without a nationality and basic rights is a harsh reality for thousands of Romani people in Europe, including children. Our work alongside our members to bolster international, regional and national responses to Roma statelessness shows that it is possible to tackle statelessness with a proactive approach.
The issue of statelessness goes to the heart of national politics as it touches on the question of ‘who belongs’ in a particular State. This is one of the reasons why minority groups are at particular risk of statelessness.
Discrimination often has a role to play in the causes of statelessness around the world. Nationality laws may be written - or more often in Europe implemented - in such a way as to exclude certain groups or make it more difficult for them to acquire or prove their nationality.
The main causes of statelessness among Roma in the Western Balkans are state succession, recent histories of forced displacement, lack of civil documentation, and the inheritance of statelessness. Many thousands of Romani people continue to be disproportionately impacted by these issues, which are exacerbated by deep-rooted antigypsyism. Without birth certificates or any other identification documents to assert their nationality, people face difficulties accessing other rights like education, healthcare, employment, and housing. A major obstacle to obtaining documents is complex administrative systems. When technical legal barriers and antigypsyism combine, these systems become almost impossible to navigate without legal aid, underpinning and reinforcing the risk of statelessness.
Hundreds of thousands of people among the Russian-speaking populations of the Baltic States, especially in Estonia and Latvia, remain stateless following the break-up of the Soviet Union. Excluded from citizenship under nationality laws enacted in the 1990s, they are granted certain rights and legal residency, but are not considered nationals, and so do not enjoy political rights, cannot work in certain professions, and do not benefit from EU citizenship.
What needs to be done?
- Ensure universal birth registration and certification for all children at birth regardless of the status or identity of parents.
- Introduce and implement provisions in nationality laws that provide for children to gain the nationality of the country in which they were born if they would otherwise be stateless.
- Recognise and eliminate discriminatory laws and practices that perpetuate the risk of statelessness and build the capacity of officials and other actors to identify and combat antigypsyism and other forms of discrimination.
- Simplify procedures for late birth registration and facilitate naturalisation or confirmation of nationality for stateless minority groups resident on the territory (i.e. based on birth, residence, family ties).
- Eliminate procedural and practical obstacles to the issuance of nationality documentation to those entitled to it under law.
Now [that I got my nationality confirmed], I feel that I am somebody. Because before I was not able to tell people that I exist...
Our work on the issue
#RomaBelong – Roma statelessness in the Western Balkans and Ukraine
The #RomaBelong project was set up in 2016 to better understand and address Roma statelessness in European Union candidate and neighbourhood countries in the Western Balkans (Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia), and Ukraine. The project was launched as a joint initiative by the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC), the Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion (ISI) and the European Network on Statelessness (ENS) in collaboration with national partners.
In 2017, we published a synthesis report drawing on research from six countries and setting out recommendations for ending Roma statelessness in the region. Following this, we worked with national partners in Albania and Ukraine to publish detailed country reports mapping out the issues and what needs to change in each of those countries.
Since then, we have continued to build links with Roma civil society in the region, connected with grassroots organisations who have joined our network, and influenced national and regional policy agendas. We believe a shared understanding, with Roma communities at the heart of shaping and implementing change, is key to tackling the issue.
Our global and regional advocacy on this issue
Over the last few years, we have worked closely with our members and partners to draw attention to statelessness as it affects minorities and call for global and regional action. In 2018-19, we worked closely with others to inform the thematic focus of the UN Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues, Fernand de Varennes, on stateless minorities. We attended expert meetings with the Special Rapporteur and presented our calls for action at the 2018 Global Forum on Minority Issues. The Special Rapporteur’s focus on the issue of statelessness has led to the issues being recognised at the UN General Assembly, galvanising action in this area.
We have made joint submissions to UN treaty bodies and the Universal Periodic Review, drawing on evidence gathered from our members and partners working with affected communities, leading to concrete recommendations being made to particular States to address issues like access to birth registration and the reduction of statelessness.
We have influenced the European Union and Council of Europe to focus on the issue of Roma statelessness in its working groups, strategies and policy documents. All of this helps to ensure an enabling legal and policy environment at regional level for Romani activists and advocates to push national governments for reform.