The specific rights and experiences of stateless people and those affected by nationality problems are rarely acknowledged in the media and policy debates that affect them, and they are often given little opportunity to inform and influence these debates. This reflects the lack of inclusion of migrants and refugees in the current policy and media debate on migration. For example, a recent Council of Europe report shows that migrants and refugees are given few opportunities to speak about their own experiences in media coverage across Europe of the ‘Refugee crisis’. Instead, they are represented as victims through images and are more likely to be spoken about by others.
ENS is working with people affected by statelessness as part of our new project #HearItFromUs to co-develop practical solutions which address this gap and facilitate their sustained participation in our advocacy and communications work in a way that is meaningful and empowering to those affected by statelessness.
“Community engagement is a purposeful process which develops a working relationship between communities, community organisations and public and private bodies to help them to identify and act on community needs and ambitions. It involves respectful dialogue between everyone involved, aimed at improving understanding between them and taking joint action to achieve positive change.”
When talking about ‘community engagement’, it is important to recognise that the concept of community is not straightforward with a range of meanings used by different actors, but that it is also a commonly used word including within grassroots organisations led by and for the people they serve. ‘Community’ also reflects the collective aspect of engagement work, which is critical in terms of advocacy and campaigning work.
Regardless of whether we refer to ‘participation’, ‘engagement’, or ‘community engagement’, it is essential that any approach to promoting the voices of stateless people is done in an inclusive way that recognises both shared experiences, and the diversity of experiences that exist within populations affected by statelessness. To be effective, engagement must involve a two-way dialogue that supports and is beneficial to the stateless people involved in a long-term, sustainable way.
Since 2017, ENS has worked with Phiren amenca, a Roma youth NGO in Montenegro which became the first Roma-led organisation to join the European Network on Statelessness. We have supported Phiren amenca to speak at events in Brussels to an audience of MEPs and other key stakeholders as well as participate in advocacy meetings and activities with the European Commission, Council of Europe, UNHCR and Montenegrin Government.
“As a grassroots organisation, Phiren amenca is working directly within the Roma community in Podgorica, a city where the majority of the Roma population in Montenegro lives. Through our direct work with the Roma population within our project supported by ENS, we strive to identify and help individuals that are at risk of becoming stateless. As a Roma led-NGO, Phiren amenca believes that only through an establishment of cooperation with all stakeholders, positive change can be achieved.”
Elvis Beriša, Executive Director of Phiren amenca
As ENS embarks on its new five-year strategic plan, which was shaped with the input of our members, we aim to strengthen our work with people affected by statelessness, ensure our work is informed by them and diversify the voices speaking out on the issue of statelessness. As a network, partnership is one of our core values and this is why we have incorporated working with people affected by statelessness as one of our key strategic goals for the next five years. We will strive to build our relationships and increase opportunities to collaborate with people affected by statelessness – a lot of which will depend on working even closer with our national members who have a detailed understanding of the situation on the ground.
To help us achieve this we are embarking on an exciting new project #HearItFromUs, in which we will work with people affected by statelessness to better understand their concerns and priorities and co-develop an approach to support them to have their voices heard and to actively participate in ENS’ advocacy and communications work.
Already in 2019, we have analysed existing work being done to engage people affected by statelessness at the national level by ENS members through a member survey, which showed that the extent to which members involve migrants, refugees or people affected by statelessness within their work varies considerably, with the majority of members stating that they would like to do more of this within their own organisations. There are several examples of good practice and learnings across our membership and only a small number of refugee/migrant-led organisations representing groups disproportionately affected by statelessness are currently members of ENS, which we will aim to increase through our future work.
Over the next few months, ENS is working with its members Consonant, Fundacion CEPAIM and New Women Connectors to deliver participatory workshops in Spain, the UK and the Netherlands with migrants and refugees affected by statelessness to identify and prioritise key issues experienced by people affected by statelessness, explore how best to involve stateless people in the work of the European Network on Statelessness, and co-develop an action plan for future engagement based on the feedback and individual needs of the workshop participants. We are already starting to embed this approach across our work and will be carrying out similar workshops and meetings in Greece with Greek Forum of Refugees through our #StatelessJourneys project.
We hope that these national action plans will lead to a long-term engagement process that benefits and empowers those affected by statelessness, and which meets their needs and potential. We also hope that this pilot approach will be rolled out in other countries to amplify the voices of stateless people across countries in Europe, and that our approach can provide learnings for other civil society organisations and networks to start building a more participatory approach into their own work with people affected by statelessness, refugees and migrants.