The last ENS blog entry dealt with the emergence of the issue of statelessness on the international agenda. Following this approach my contribution wishes to add another perspective to this discussion, notably what a government can do in order to address statelessness through foreign policy initiatives and to highlight the issue of protecting the stateless in different international fora.
Hungary is a good example for that, being party to all relevant international conventions on the protection of the stateless and the reduction and prevention of statelessness. These multilateral instruments are, on the universal level, the 1954 New York Convention on the Status of Stateless Persons, the 1957 UN Convention on the Nationality of Married Women, the 1961 UN Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness; then on the regional level, the 1997 European Convention on Nationality and the 2006 Council of Europe Convention on the Avoidance of Statelessness in relation to State Succession. All this relays a firm foreign policy message: it shows to the outside world Hungary’s strong commitment to protecting stateless people and preventing its future cases as well as reducing their existing number. Being party to all these international instruments Hungary can no longer modify her internal rules unilaterally. Besides that, Hungary has also improved domestic legislation in order to better implement these international obligations. As an outstanding example, as of 1 July 2007, Hungary established a completely new statelessness determination procedure and it is now one of the few countries in the European Union (EU) having such a self-standing, comprehensive procedure established by law; with guarantees comparable to the refugee status determination procedure, fulfilling the specific needs of this group. Less than ten States all over the world have procedures in place to identify stateless persons in their territory, which is a first step to protection The Hungarian statelessness determination procedure has been in the international spotlight in recent years, mainly due to the sophisticated and in many aspects protection-oriented legal regime it established.
Since the establishment of this procedural framework, Hungary puts more emphasis on the promotion of the protection of stateless people and the reduction/prevention of statelessness in her international relations. It then became a clear strategic goal, too: the Government Strategy of Hungary for Cooperating in the Area of Freedom, Security and Justice of the EU for 2009-2014 stipulates that “Hungary – as a signatory to all international conventions in the field of statelessness – wishes to further represent the issue of the protection of stateless persons on the international plane, among others by disseminating the practical experiences gained from the exemplary Hungarian procedure for the recognition of stateless status.”
Against this background, below I will give some examples for implementing this policy goal.
In June 2010 Hungary organized a seminar on statelessness in the framework of the then Söderköping Process (now: Eastern Partnership Panel on Migration and Asylum – see: http://eapmigrationpanel.org/), presenting her experiences and good practices to Moldova, Ukraine and Belarus. Similarly, we shared our experiences gained in relation to statelessness determination in a side event of the 15th session of the UN Human Rights Council in September 2010 in Geneva.
Moreover, Hungary as Presidency of the Council of the EU in the first semester of 2011 put this issue on the European agenda as well. On our initiative, Member States discussed the issues of prevention and reduction of statelessness as well as the protection of stateless people at the informal meeting of the Strategic Committee on Frontiers, Immigration and Asylum (SCIFA) of the EU Council in May 2011 in Budapest. We thus welcome as a possible follow-up that at the 2012 UN High Level Rule of Law meeting during the General Assembly in New York the EU pledged that all Member States not yet parties to the 1954 Statelessness Convention would now ratify this international instrument. Even if the EU as an entity does not have competence to adopt uniform EU-legislation on statelessness, it can support Member States’, NGOs’ and other stakeholders’ efforts in various other ways. In order to ensure foreseeable and sustainable financing in this field, it is of utmost importance that activities related to statelessness be eligible for EU funding so that NGOs will be in a position to carry out such projects financed by these resources. A positive sign is that the new EU Migration and Asylum Fund for the period of 2014-2020 clearly refers to stateless people as beneficiaries of this financial instrument, therefore activities aiming at addressing their situation can be covered by the allocations of the new Fund.
Hungarian government experts are also regularly invited to UNHCR expert consultations on different topics regarding statelessness and also enjoy an excellent cooperation relationship with local NGOs (e.g. Hungarian Helsinki Committee) and the UNHCR Regional Representation in Budapest. Hungary strives to assist UNHCR to improve the situation of stateless people around the world. During the last few years, we have received different delegations for study visits from various countries such as the United Kingdom in December 2010; Montenegro in April 2011; FYROM, the Philippines and Moldova in autumn 2011 as well as a Central-European delegation of UNHCR in December 2012, including state officials from Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia. Likewise, Hungarian government experts have been invited to expert roundtables to Romania, Turkmenistan, Georgia and the UNHCR’s Bureau for Europe in Brussels in course of 2011. Tangible results of these study visits and expert consultations can be measured: for instance, the United Kingdom just recently adopted changes to its Immigration Act which introduced a statelessness determination procedure as of April 2013; Moldova has acceded to both UN conventions; while Georgia has become party to the 1954 UN Convention; the Philippines has established a statelessness determination procedure etc.
On the universal level, it is worth mentioning that at the December 2011 UNHCR Ministerial Conference Hungary made some statelessness related pledges. These were: 1) to continue the promotion of the UN Conventions relating to the status of stateless persons and on the reduction of statelessness, and since Hungary has gathered significant knowledge and expertise in this field, to share these best practices and experiences with all interested States in the framework of seminars or study visits; 2) to withdraw the declaration made to the Articles 23 and 24 of the 1954 UN Convention, thus ensuring the full enjoyment of the rights contained in those Articles (access to public relief, labour legislation and social security) to all stateless recognized by Hungary; and finally 3) to develop a quality evaluation and development mechanism in statelessness determination. All these pledges have been implemented since then. The declaration to Articles 23 and 24 of the 1954 UN Convention was withdrawn as of 3 July 2012. The quality evaluation and development mechanism has been set up: a Quality Assurance Manual has been prepared (available in Hungarian and in English), which is a joint product of the Office of Immigration and Nationality (national authority responsible for statelessness determination) and UNHCR's Hungary Unit. This Manual, being in use since the end of last year, is specifically designed for eligibility officers working at the Regional Directorates of the immigration authority and it takes into account UNHCR Guidelines on Statelessness No. 1 and 2. Finally, promotion of the two UN Conventions is an ongoing activity, in various forms such as highlighting the importance of these conventions in different international conferences and seminars, receiving study visits from States interested in acceding and advising them as well as organizing events to mainstream these instruments and explaining their advantages.
What is for the future? The Hungarian government continues to pursue the above mentioned policy line and to promote the issue of protecting the stateless in international cooperation. In December 2013, the Ministry of Interior is going to organize a seminar with Moldova, in the framework of the EU Eastern Partnership Panel on Migration and Asylum on implementing international obligations on statelessness, including sharing experiences of functioning statelessness determination procedures amongst EU Member States and Eastern Partners (Belarus, Moldova, Ukraine as well as Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia). Further to that, the year 2014 will mark the 60th anniversary of the 1954 New York Convention. Building on the momentum generated by the 2011 UNHCR Ministerial Conference of States, 2014 presents an excellent opportunity to reinforce awareness and action to address statelessness around the globe. As a champion State on statelessness, Hungary will strive to assist UNHCR in its endeavour to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the 1954 New York Convention in order to jointly bring forward the plight of stateless people around the world. The 2014 Conference in The Hague will be an excellent occasion to reconfirm our commitments and, hopefully, many States will follow, so as to make the world a better and liveable place for these often invisible and highly vulnerable individuals.
Dr. Tamás MOLNÁR is Head of Unit, Unit for Migration, Asylum and Border Management, Department of EU Cooperation, Ministry of Interior (Hungary); He is also research fellow, Institute of International Studies, Corvinus University of Budapest.