As the year draws to a close we can confidently say that the issue of statelessness and what can be done to tackle it at the EU level, is higher up the political agenda than it was 12 months ago. Much of the credit for this goes to the European Network on Statelessness and the #StatelessKids campaign and the UNHCR and the #ibeong campaign for joining up the dots and making decision makers and stakeholders, from child rights NGOs to children's ombudspersons, aware of the real human stories behind the stateless 'label' and what can be done to tackle the challenge at hand.
For stateless persons the fundamental rights that most people take for granted like education and healthcare, become impossible to access. Those who are stateless describe a feeling of not belonging, of their identity being 'rubbed out'. As the EU network of child's rights organisations Eurochild pointed out at a roundtable discussion organised by the European Parliament's Intergroup on children's Rights and the European Network on Statelessness last week on childhood statelessness to launch the 'No child should be stateless' report [pdf], also leads to a whole raft of other challenges, such as discrimination and social exclusion.
The good news is that we can eradicate childhood statelessness in the EU with a healthy dose of political will at all levels to make sure that all Member States have the right systems in place to ensure 100% birth registration and the acquisition of a nationality immediately or soon after birth.
Although we have a long way to go, the issue of statelessness is moving up the political agenda. Our meeting last week was organised in conjunction with the European Parliament's cross party Intergroup on Children's Rights and was supported by the active engagement of MEPs from across the political spectrum. The discussion brought together a broad range of actors from the European Commission, Council (Luxembourgish Presidency), European Parliament, child's rights organisations and UN agencies. A study has just been published at the request of the Parliament's Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee bringing together the different practices and approaches EU Member States take to prevent and end statelessness, which should be presented early next year. The study includes a call for an EU Directive on statelessness determination procedures.
Perhaps most significantly, at the end of last week the European Council adopted conclusions on statelessness inviting the Commission to launch exchanges of good practices among Member States in order to reduce the number of stateless people in the EU, strengthen their protection and reduce the risk of discrimination. Although not hugely ambitious the conclusions are a very important and significant first step in the right direction and the Luxembourgian Presidency should be commended for keeping this issue on the agenda. A strategic report currently being drafted in Parliament on a 'holistic approach to migration', to be adopted in the first half of next year, will also certainly include some calls and recommendations on what the EU can do to tackle statelessness.
The challenge of childhood statelessness is set to increase in the context of the current refugee crisis, especially among children born in exile to Syrian refugees. During last week's meeting we heard of children being born at border crossings and in transit as their parents move on through the EU to seek safety. The current context makes it more important than ever for Member States to ensure that they have functioning and efficient stateless determination procedures, and that all children have access to birth registration and a nationality - it is never in a child's best interests to be stateless!