The Global Compact for Migration provides a starting point for considering statelessness in migration governance

Tendayi Bloom, Lecturer in Politics and International Studies at The Open University
/ 4 mins read

At the opening ceremony of the Intergovernmental Meeting to Adopt the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM), UN Secretary General António Guterres emphasised that the GCM is not a treaty. He presented it instead as a roadmap for facilitating the coordination and implementation of commitments that are largely already asserted in existing treaties.

This is certainly the case in the context of statelessness. Objective Four asserts for example the need to ensure that women can pass on their citizenship to their children on an equal basis to men, and that migrant births are registered (as well as other relevant commitments). Neither these, nor other related commitments are new. They appear in several widely ratified core human rights treaties.

And yet, the inclusion of reference to statelessness in the GCM does represent something new. It locates statelessness and some associated State commitments with regard to statelessness within a global, multi-level and cross-sectoral approach to migration governance. In doing this, it affirms, unequivocally, the need to consider statelessness when creating and evaluating migration governance infrastructures. This will be something for members of the European Network on Statelessness and other stakeholders to build upon as the Compact is implemented.

That said, the way in which statelessness is addressed does give reason for concern and for particular vigilance during the implementation. Here are some considerations:

First, locating the obligation to provide citizenship.

In the GCM, States affirm the obligation of each State to provide nationality to children born to its citizens in another territory. This is important. But it overlooks another commitment, set out in Article 1 of the 1961 Statelessness Convention, that States should offer citizenship to anyone born in their territories if that person would otherwise be stateless (i.e. irrespective of parentage). In reality both of these are likely to be important in ensuring that everyone has access to an appropriate citizenship.

Second, securing rights of stateless persons.

Stateless persons, lacking the citizenship of the country in which they live, can often find themselves subject to migration control. They may also be unable to secure even basic human rights, often because they are defined administratively to be migrants. This is the case irrespective of whether they have crossed an international border. As such, implications for stateless persons need to be considered throughout migration governance, for example with regard to access to labour markets, to education, to justice; and in developing policy relating to detention, and to trafficking. Crucially, safe, orderly and regular migration pathways are also often unavailable to stateless persons.

It will be worthwhile to take these considerations and others into account when building on the existing acknowledgement of statelessness in the GCM.

This recognition of the need to consider the relationship between statelessness and migration governance could be heard across the events surrounding the adoption of the GCM, albeit faintly. This came from representatives of States, of International Organisations and of Civil Society Organisations. Indeed, the process towards the GCM had also occasioned opportunities to discuss statelessness among a range of actors, which will hopefully provide a basis for further work during the implementation phase.

For this phase, certain new mechanisms will be created. For example, the UN Secretary General called for there to be a new UN Network on Migration. This will be coordinated by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and will replace the Global Migration Group. A knowledge platform on migration will also be created. The IOM has announced that civil society will play a role in the Network, including in its Working Groups, and that consultations will be held with civil society in the first quarter of 2019. The format of this is to be announced in due course. It will be important for stateless persons, those at risk of statelessness, and their advocates to be part of these processes.

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