Lessons learned from the Americas: political will and coordinated action to eradicate statelessness

Francisco Quintana, co-founder Americas Network on Nationality and Statelessness
/ 5 mins read

Since the launch of UNHCR’s #IBelong Campaign in 2014, it has been suggested that the Americas could be the first “statelessness free” region. This ambitious goal was restated in 2017, adding that the Americas represents “a worldwide model, leading the global fight to eradicate statelessness”. The combination of this global campaign paired with such a progressive regional framework provides the context for such high expectations.

Evaluation of the Plan of Action of Brazil

Following its ten-year renewal of commitments since the adoption of the 1984 Cartagena Declaration (1994 San Jose Declaration, 2004 Plan of Action of Mexico), the 2014 Plan of Action of Brazil on the International Protection and Sustainable Solutions for Refugees, Displaced and Statelessness Persons in Latin America and the Caribbean, included for the first time a program promoting national laws and practices that aimed at the prevention, protection and eradication of statelessness (Chapter VI).

Earlier this week, on February 19th and 20th, 2018, high level representatives from countries across Latin America and the Caribbean met in Brasilia, Brazil to evaluate the first 3 years of implementation of the Plan of Action of Brazil and to discuss the regional contribution to the Global Compact on Refugees. The event was co-hosted by the Brazilian Government and the United Nations Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Observer countries, international organizations and representatives of civil society also took part in the dialogue. The Americas Network on Nationality and Statelessness (Red ANA, for its acronym in Spanish) was present at the event to show its accomplishments in this period. In order to prepare the assessment of the Brazil Plan of Actions, four sub-regional consultation meetings took place in 2017. Two of them discussed the issue of statelessness: Argentina and the Bahamas.

The meeting in Argentina took place in Buenos Aires on November 2and 3, 2017, and was attended by 15 States, international and civil society organizations and included evaluation of progress as well as remaining challenges in the following areas.


Some good practices in the area of prevention were identified, in particular in relation to the acquisition of nationality where the irregular migratory status of parents had previously prevented the registration of the child as a national, as well as in cases of lack of registration at birth for the acquisition of nationality. For example, Chile implemented the project "Chile Recognizes", which limited previous interpretations of the concept of foreigner "in transit" based on a recent Supreme Court interpretation of this concept. In turn, Costa Rica through a late birth registration project called "Chiriticos" confirmed the nationality and prevented statelessness of the Ngäbe-Buglé indigenous peoples who move in areas around the border with Panama. In spite of this progress, some persisting challenges remain: the accession by all states in the region to the two Conventions on statelessness; the determination of the exact number of people at risk of statelessness in our continent; and the gender-based discrimination in nationality laws in the Bahamas and Barbados.


Regarding protection, over the last three years, several countries made changes in the regulatory frameworks on statelessness. Costa Rica adopted a new procedure for determining the status of statelessness through an executive decree in 2016. Ecuador and Brazil included a whole new Chapter on statelessness in their 2017 Human Mobility Law and Migration Act, respectively. Legislative projects were discussed in Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay and Panamá to ensure protection and facilitate the process for naturalization.


States recognized the importance of providing legal residence and the need to facilitate the naturalization of stateless persons as the best way to solve cases of statelessness. Despite the efforts of Red ANA to include a specific reference to the situation in the Dominican Republic, the consultation document from Argentina did not make any reference to the thousands of stateless people in the Dominican Republic. In its participation in the high-level meeting in Brazil this week, the DR representative denied, one more time as they usually do in international events, that there was even a single case of statelessness in that country.

Developments in the Caribbean

The meeting in the Bahamas took place in Nassau on December 4th and 6th, 2017, and was attended by 17 Caribbean States, the US Coast Guard as observer, and international organizations. This consultation showed an increased awareness and political will to address statelessness. Some positive signs in the region include, the accession to the 1961 Convention of Jamaica in 2014, and Belize in 2015. Suriname eliminated gender discrimination from its nationality laws in 2014. The Haitian Parliament voted in favor of the accession to both Conventions on Statelessness. Despite its failed referendum in 2016, the Bahamas "demonstrated its efforts and political will to address gender discrimination treatment in nationality provisions of the Bahamian Constitution". Some of the challenges identified in the Caribbean include the poor civil registration and documentation systems, high costs for birth registration and personal documentation, poor infrastructure and lack of capacity to reach remote places, among others.

Conclusions of the High-Level Meeting in Brasilia

The recommendations made at the meeting in Brazil this week will serve as contributions of the region to the Global Compact on Refugees. Despite all the advances in the region on statelessness, it is admittedly not clear how much wording on statelessness will be included in this Global Compact

On the other hand, regarding the implementation of the regional framework, the evaluation of the achievements of Chapter VI of the Plan of Action of Brazil was very positive. First of all, the issue of statelessness was repeatedly mentioned by several states, taking a 180-degree shift from previous meetings. Second, concrete results have been achieved in the last three years such as ratifications of statelessness conventions, adoption of legal frameworks and statelessness determination procedures. Third, the role of civil society was highlighted, and Red ANA was classified as a good practice for its contribution in promoting, training and capacity building in the Americas. Fourth, only one person of interest to UNHCR took the floor, and it was a stateless person, Maha Mamo, who through her amazing story silenced the audience and make it clear how important it is to work for the more than 10 million people that share her burden.

As seen above, due to the increasing introduction of adequate legislative frameworks, complementary efforts among States and the increasing involvement and support of civil society, our region could definitely reach the goal of being the first in the world to become a "statelessness free" territory by 2024. Red ANA will work closely with civil society actors and stateless population across the region to make this ambitious goal come true.

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