When meeting a stateless person what is often so very striking is their understandable bewilderment about the situation they have been unlucky enough to find themselves in, and a corresponding desperate desire on their part to establish an identity and to enjoy the sort of normal daily life that most of us take for granted.
This same sense of frustration and longing jumps out from testimonies gathered by the European Network on Statelessness as part of its campaign to protect stateless persons in Europe. Launched last October, this will culminate with a coordinated day of action on 14 October, and several ENS members are already planning actions or events in support of the campaign. The stories launched today, along with an online petition (available in 9 languages) calling on Europe’s leaders to take action, are intended to give stateless persons a voice and to try to help uncover at least a little of their invisibility. The six stories offer only a snapshot of the typical problems faced by stateless people across Europe today but hopefully will help serve as a wake-up call for governments to put in place the relatively simple reforms that would provide a much-needed solution.
Take Isa, stateless in Serbia, and who feels different a “million times” because of his lack of citizenship or any identity documents. Or Sarah, stuck in limbo in the Netherlands, who explains “I live day by day, not knowing what the future will bring”. Or Luka, who despite having lived in Slovakia for over 20 years, is unable to work or even officially to be recognized as the father of the child he has with his partner, a Slovak national. In many respects even more alarming is the fact that both Luka and Roman, another stateless person stuck in limbo in Slovakia, have lost their personal liberty for no other reason than that they are unlucky enough to be stateless. Roman describes having been detained on 6 to 7 occasions while Luka once spent 14 months in an immigration detention centre.
But as I learnt when invited to speak at a statelessness roundtable organised by UNHCR in Bratislava last week, Slovakian legislation actually already provides a discretionary power to regularise stateless persons but unfortunately lacks any form of dedicated determination procedure to enable officials to reliably identify stateless persons on its territory. But it would be unfair to single out Slovakia in this regard as the regrettable fact is that most European states still lack such basic procedures which are urgently necessary if these countries are to honour the obligations they signed up to when ratifying the 1954 Statelessness Convention. So except for a few states that have yet even to take the first step of acceding to the Convention (including Cyprus, Estonia, Malta and Poland) the problem really is one of implementation. In this regard, last December ENS published its good practice guide on statelessness determination, intended as a tool for states considering introducing these essential dedicated procedures.
Obviously the stories described above are just a glimpse of the human impact of statelessness but they echo recent more detailed research undertaken, including through UNHCR mapping studies in Belgium and the Netherlands. This research confirms that the absence of a route by which stateless persons can regularise their status leaves these individuals at risk of a range of human rights abuses. Many stateless persons find themselves destitute or forced to sleep rough on the streets. Others are subjected to long term immigration detention despite there being no prospect of return. Few are in a position to break this cycle, and as a consequence are left in legal limbo for years.
We are asking you and others concerned about statelessness in Europe to sign the following online petition:
To European leaders,
Around 600,000 stateless persons live in Europe today, including many migrants stuck in perpetual limbo. They urgently require our protection. We ask that:
1) All European states accede to the 1954 Statelessness Convention by the end 2014.
2) All European states without a functioning statelessness determination procedure make a clear commitment during 2014 to take necessary steps to introduce one by the end 2016.
Act now by signing and sharing this petition with your contacts!
With your support we can bring Europe’s legal ghosts out of the shadows and ensure that stateless persons are treated with the respect and dignity which has been lacking.