In November 2017 the newly elected Prime minister of Republic of Macedonia Mr. Zoran Zaev announced that his government will adopt a comprehensive approach in order to finally solve the issue of people living in Macedonia without documentation. He gave a promise that the results will be fast and visible. “Enough talk, we need concrete proposals” is what Mr. Zaev stated at a working meeting on social inclusion of Roma back in 2017. Despite being nationals under the letter of the law, many Roma struggle for years to prove their links to their home country due to discrimination, marginalisation and lack of access to justice. MYLA with its partners have recorded over 650 people at risk of statelessness in Macedonia, a large proportion of whom are Roma.
Following the meeting the Government announced a new campaign to address the issue. The campaign was designed in several phases, starting with an initial six-month public call to identify and record people who lack a birth certificate and other documentation. The exercise started in April 2018 and came to an end on 1 November. The data collected was intended to give the authorities a clear(er) picture of the number of affected people so that their situation can be resolved.
Both representatives from the international community and civil society organisations are closely following the developments and what will happen for those identified through the registration exercise. The Government is yet to make an announcement as to exactly what steps will follow next. It is understood that they are choosing between two proposed models - either a judicial or an administrative procedure- to enable an individual's identity to be confirmed and subsequently a route to citizenship provided. In this regard, proposed legal amendments have been developed jointly by UNHCR, MYLA and OSCE (you can read the full Analysis of the legal framework related to birth and civil registration, in the context of prevention of statelessness). MYLA is advocating for the adoption of an administrative procedure as this would be quicker and more accessible to those affected. MYLA also believes it is critical that this new procedure (whether juducual or administrative) offers a systemic and prospective solution for people who are or could be affected, and is not simply a one-off regularisation exercise for those individuals identified through the recent siz-month call for registration.
More broadly the Macedonian Young Lawyers Association (MYLA) has been actively working on the issue of statelessness for more than eight years by focusing our work on raising awareness, coalition building, national and regional advocacy and provision of legal and financial assistance. MYLA provides free legal advice to individuals going through the procedure for additional registration, regulation of residence and admission to citizenship and has worked closely with other national NGOs on raising awareness among the local population. During the government’s six-month public call for registration, MYLA’s lawyers were successful in reaching more than 300 families and assist them with the registration procedure.
Over a long period, MYLA has been closely involved in the work to simplify civil registration procedures, fill gaps in the legislation and raise awareness about the issues. We are a member of the National coordinating body – a working group within the action for additional inscription of births and personal names. Over the last three years, in parallel with UNHCR’s #IBelong campaign to end statelessness, MYLA ran a campaign to raise awareness among the affected population about the problem of statelessness. In addition, MYLA has been one of the #RomaBelong project partners, working on the joint initiative by the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC), the Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion (ISI) and the European Network on Statelessnes (ENS) to tackle Roma statelessness in the region.
Our partnership with ENS was strengthened with the recently-published Statelessness Index. Its development increased our awareness of national issues, allowing us to be more strategic and relevant in the way we formulate our advocacy objectives. The comparative aspect of the Index is especially useful in the current context and provides us with concrete solutions and positive examples from other countries, which can be presented in our advocacy towards the government and civil servants (read the full country report).
"One society for all, [...] is one of the highest priorities for this Government", said Prime Minister Zaev in his address at a recent event entitled "Systematic solutions for registration of persons without documents" held on 28 November in Skopje. The Prime minister together with the Minister of Labor and Social policy, an institution that coordinates the process, stated that during the first quarter of 2019 the Government will outline its preferred model and proposals for amendments of the legislation. If this goes as promised, we will be able to see the first cases being solved in the first half of 2019. Meanwhile MYLA will continue to monitor and try to influence this process.