„...I just want to get an ID card, like other citizens, and then register the birth of my children. My greatest wish is that my children go to school... There are a lot of good people in our neighbourhood who help us survive, but they cannot help us with the documents...“ Ljulja
Ljulja’s well-being and that of her children depend exclusively on two things - good will and support of the local community where she lives and the family’s capability to cope with their problems.
Ljulja is a Roma born in Kosovo 30 years ago, but the fact of her birth was not registered in the birth registry upon birth. Her parents who are originally from Kosovo abandoned her when she was three years old and she has never heard of them again. She was raised by her cousins. Following the 1999 Kosovo conflict, Ljulja fled to Serbia where she has lived since.
As a minor, Ljulja was briefly put in a social care institution. In spite of being a beneficiary of social welfare protection system, the authorities failed to help her regulate her status and subsequently register in the birth registry. She was only provided with food and shelter, but due to lack of personal documents, she did not have any proof that she had ever been included in the social welfare system. She spent her childhood without having legal guardianship, without her birth registered and without a nationality.
Today, Ljulja is a mother of three legally invisible children, i.e. not registered in the birth registry, born while she was a legally invisible person as well. They are unable to access all the rights guaranteed to Serbian citizens, which inevitably leads to their further marginalization. Due to lack of personal documents and consequently health insurance, and out of fear that she might not be provided with the needed health care, she used somebody else’s health booklet when giving birth to her children. This has led to someone else being entered as the mother of the children in the hospital records. As a result, she is now facing a court procedure for disputing maternity. Her family does not receive any kind of help from the state and is left on its own, while their fear of further discrimination exceeds the need to fight for their rights. Unfortunately, the state that Ljulja considers her own has been offending her dignity for years by depriving her from subsequently registering her birth, acquiring nationality and enjoying her rights.
Until the end of 2012, the only possibility for legally invisible persons to subsequently register their fact of birth was through an administrative procedure. However, this was not the case with Ljulja. In practice, the successful outcome could be expected only by persons whose parents are willing to participate in proceedings and who possess necessary documents. Upon the introduction of the non-contentious court procedure for determination of date and place of birth in September 2012, Ljulja was finally able to register in the birth registry. This legislative solution, designed to facilitate the procedure of subsequent registration in the birth registry, is a significant step forward towards the solution of the issue of legally invisible persons. However, in this concrete case, the risk of statelessness has not been eliminated.
Having been registered in the birth registry, Ljulja must go through a procedure for acquisition of Serbian nationality. However, she does not possess any documents of her parents and cannot prove that they were Serbian citizens, thus having slim chances to acquire a nationality. The only connection with the state which can be proved is the fact of birth on its territory. Besides, Ljulja can no longer rely on the safeguard of the Law on Citizenship of the Republic of Serbia aimed at prevention of statelessness among children born in Serbia. Ljulja is already 30 and in practice only the children up to 18 years of age may benefit from this safeguard.
The children abandoned by their parents and neglected by the state, which is not rare in case of Roma children, find themselves in greater risk of statelessness. Had Ljulja not been neglected by the state as a child and had the state fulfilled its obligation to appoint a guardian to the minor, she would have been registered in the birth registry and acquired Serbian nationality as a child already. Now she can only try to go through the long-lasting procedure for admission into Serbian nationality as a person born on its territory who has resided in the state for at least two years prior to submitting a nationality claim. However, the outcome of this procedure is uncertain, because Ljulja will have difficulties to prove that she has resided in Serbia. In addition, she would have to pay the expensive fee for admission, which represents another obstacle given the poverty she lives in. Until she has acquired Serbian nationality and, afterwards registered residence and obtained an ID card, her children will remain unregistered, without health insurance and access to other rights.