Looking back, looking forward – Solving statelessness in Europe

Chris Nash, Director of the European Network on Statelessness
/ 5 mins read

Writing this blog on the train back from Strasbourg, it’s hard not to feel inspired by the many people with whom I’ve spent the last four days discussing how together we can tackle statelessness in Europe. Mixed in with some tiredness, there is also a proud glow about how far we have developed as a Network since we held our first Annual General Conference in Strasbourg back in 2014.

Since we founded our Network at around this time, we have always considered working with and towards the Council of Europe as a priority given its long tradition and leadership role in protecting nationality rights, particularly in the period leading up to and following the adoption of the 1997 European Convention on Nationality.

The need for continued, or indeed even recharged, action on statelessness by the Council of Europe remains as pressing as ever. It was for this reason that we decided to run this year’s Annual General Conference in Strasbourg, and linked to this, to hold a lunchtime reception event in the Palais of the Council of Europe during this week’s Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) session.

As well as encouraging and calling for increased action by the Council of Europe, we used the event to promote our Statelessness Index as an important tool to support this work, and help benchmark progress by states towards meeting their obligations under international law to protect stateless people and to prevent new cases of statelessness arising. At its core, the key enduring problem in Europe is a failure by many governments to respect these obligations in practice. This protection gap has devastating consequences for those left living without a nationality, and is often due to a basic failure to properly identify statelessness.

This point was astutely highlighted by Kseniya Turkovic who spoke at our event and was one of the European Court of Human Rights judges sitting in the recent landmark case of Hoti v Croatia. Encouragingly, she highlighted the potential relevance of this judgement for other stateless persons in limbo across Europe. Doris Fiala, Swiss parliamentarian and Chairperson of the PACE Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons, hosted the event and spoke poignantly about how her partner is a formerly stateless refugee and what living without a nationality had meant for him. There was also discussion about the importance of UNHCR’s #ibelong campaign, including looking ahead to a planned High Level Event in Geneva in October 2019.

Christos Giakoumopoulos, Director-General of the Council of Europe’s Directorate for Human Rights and Rule of Law, emphasised the continuing importance to address statelessness, including among recent refugees. He outlined how in connection with the Council of Europe’s Action plan on Refugee and Migrant Children, the European Committee on Legal Co-Operation (CDCJ) would be embarking on a new initiative conducting analysis to identify gaps, share good practices and develop solutions to ensure the improved identification of statelessness, particularly among migrant children. He also welcomed the involvement of ENS and other experts in this process, and endorsed our Statelessness Index as a valuable source of information. There was tangible energy in the presentations by speakers and among the large crowd gathered in front of the hemicycle - at the very heart of the Council of Europe - and seemingly a real interest and urgency in addressing the problem of statelessness. We certainly very much welcome the initiative by the CDCJ which directly relates to one of the key recommendations from our #StatelessKids campaign to end childhood statelessness in Europe. Indeed, it seemed fitting to be back in Strasbourg to discuss the CDCJ initiative almost exactly two years after we held an event here to deliver an online petition – signed by over 26,000 people – to representatives of both the European Parliament and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.

With a spring in our step, we returned to the European Youth Centre to begin a workshop on Roma statelessness, jointly organised by ENS with the European Roma Rights Centre and the Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion. For this event, a core group of #RomaBelong project partners and ENS members working on this issue were joined by several Roma-led organisations as well as stakeholders from UNHCR, OSCE and the Council of Europe. Much discussion centred around the need for a blended approach to tackle the problem which recognises the important role of legal tools but also understands that anti-gypsyism is the core cause of statelessness among Roma. I left the workshop mindful of this challenge but inspired by the strength of Roma organisations present in the room, and encouraged by hearing institutional actors listening closely and committing to take and/or support action. Another focus of the discussion was the need for more research and strategic litigation, renewed advocacy for stronger integration of the issue into the EU’s mainstream policy agenda and, above all, more work to help empower Roma-led organisations to shape and lead advocacy.

As Strasbourg disappears into the rear-view mirror of my TGV train to Paris. I find myself looking back and forward – thinking both about everything we have done and learnt as a Network (captured in a recent external evaluation of our work) since our first Annual General Conference back in 2014, and looking forward towards implementation of our new five-year strategic plan ‘Solving Statelessness in Europe’. This was very much the focus of this year’s gathering of ENS members, and propelled by their continuing energy and passion, I am sure that we can continue to make a real difference to the lives of stateless men, women and children across Europe.

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