Across Europe, low levels of awareness of statelessness are widespread. For NGO workers, civil servants and refugee practitioners, this a lack of awareness about statelessness has serious consequences for stateless people, who are often not identified as at risk of statelessness, incorrectly referred and unable to access their fundamental rights. ENS Member the French NGO Forum Réfugiés has created an innovative solution to help address this gap in knowledge: a multilingual toolkit designed to improve the support provided to stateless people.
The French NGO Forum Réfugiés has published a new toolkit for the identification, support and referral of people at risk of statelessness in France. This guide was produced in response to interviews conducted with NGOs and institutions in order to improve the support offered to stateless persons. The interviews helped us better understand the mechanisms organisations have in place to identify and support people at risk of statelessness, and what information and tools organisations need to improve their current practice. The English version of the toolkit is intended as a template to inspire other countries to develop their own toolkit and improve their identification and support approach and capacity.
Existing gaps in knowledge
Since 2013, Forum Réfugiés has worked alongside the European Network on Statelessness to prevent statelessness and protect the rights of stateless persons. During its awareness-raising, training, research and advocacy activities, the NGO observed significant knowledge gaps amongst practitioners supporting persons at risk of statelessness on the issue of statelessness, its indicators and the statelessness determination procedures in France. This lack of awareness and training amongst practitioners has a direct impact on persons at risk of statelessness who, already marginalised due to their lack of legal status, slip through identification and protection opportunities. To address this gap in knowledge, the Stateless Journeys project (funded by Comic Relief) provided the opportunity to develop this new guide. Since October 2020, Forum réfugiés has been working on the development of this toolkit, intended as an easy-to-use and accessible tool for any actor (including NGO workers, volunteers, or civil servants) likely to encounter people at risk of statelessness and/or stateless persons in their daily work.
The toolkit intends to address these gaps in knowledge and training for all actors in institutions that receive persons at risk of statelessness. It will improve knowledge on statelessness, its main factors, and its impact on fundamental rights. It also offers advice for identifying potential cases through concrete indicators of statelessness as well as an interview guide, and introduces the details of the national statelessness determination procedure implemented by the French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons (OFPRA). The guide summarises the rights that people can access once recognised as stateless at the end of this procedure. It also provides a referral list of NGOs where e.g. a social worker can enquire or refer according to the needs of the persons (e.g. access legal support for minors, vulnerable women, medical support, etc). Furthermore, the guide provides information on the European and international legal frameworks and points to external sources of information such as the reports of the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the Statelessness Index and the Statelessness Case Law Database created by the ENS. In order to prevent new cases of statelessness, the guide also includes a section dedicated to birth registration and the legal safeguards in France. Although this guide does not replace the need for more detailed training and will not be enough to ensure that all cases in France are identified, it is the first practical tool created alongside professionals that can quickly be disseminated widely and will hopefully help radically improve existing practice.
This guide is also another opportunity to draw attention to the current lack of understanding on this phenomenon and the weakness of public policies in this area. The matter of statelessness remains a largely ignored if not invisible issue in France. The lack of public quantitative and qualitative data on persons at risk of statelessness in France suggests that this phenomenon is minor or even non-existent in France. The legal vacuum in which persons at risk of statelessness are trapped condemns them to being marginalised and ignored by the various host societies that receive them. This is indeed the crux of this legal anomaly: the invisibility of individuals and their rights, especially the violation of their fundamental rights.
Having been committed to protecting stateless persons since 1952, France is now being called upon to not only strengthen its efforts as part of UNHCR’s international IBelong campaign to identify and protect stateless persons, but to also prevent the appearance of new cases and finally put an end to this global phenomenon that violates peoples’ fundamental rights. In practice, implementing this commitment will not only require public policies to be developed and implemented by authorities, but also by civil society practitioners and actors committed to defending the rights of stateless individuals. The mobilisation of institutions and civil society actors is essential in improving data collection and making this marginalised and off the radar population visible. With this in mind, the toolkit also provides areas for reflection which aim to both improve practice within organisations and ensure better acknowledgement of these issues to finally make stateless persons and their rights visible.
Finally, with thanks to the support of ENS and their partner Translators without Borders, the guide is now also available in English. We hope this resource will inspire other countries to develop their own guide adapted to their national context.