New report on the impacts of coronavirus on stateless people lays out a roadmap for change

Vera Karanika, Education and Programme Assistant at the Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion
/ 5 mins read

On 17 June 2021, the COVID-19 Emergency Statelessness Fund (CESF) Consortium will launch its 2021 Impact Report “Together We Can: The COVID-19 Impact on Stateless People & A Roadmap for Change”. The report documents the impacts of the global pandemic on stateless people and highlights the fact that statelessness remains a blind spot for actors with obligations to respect, promote and fulfil rights. It is grounded in the lived experience and emergency response of the CESF Consortium which is currently working in 13 countries, showcasing important initiatives by stateless groups and setting out a roadmap for change.

Together We Can: The COVID-19 Impact on Stateless People & A Roadmap for Change

In Europe, the CESF Consortium is currently working in North Macedonia and Montenegro. In both countries statelessness is underreported and mainly affects the Roma community following the dissolution of the former Yugoslavia. Romani people experience significant difficulties accessing documentation and birth registration, are routinely marginalised and discriminated against, often live in poverty and have difficulties accessing healthcare and employment.

Ever since the pandemic began, manifestations of antigypsyism have increased, disruptions in civil registration and other vital procedures have further impacted access to documentation for the Roma, and they have faced significant barriers in accessing healthcare, emergency relief and employment. At the time of writing, North Macedonia has yet to establish a vaccination campaign, whereas the new Montenegrin Government, in a show of good practice, changed their previous policy and placed the Roma in a priority group, adding that all Montenegrin residents, regardless of their citizenship status, can receive the vaccine.

Under the auspices of the CESF Consortium, two local organisations, “Bairska Svetlina” from North Macedonia and “Walk with us - Phiren Amenca” from Montenegro are working towards addressing these issues.

Bairska Svetlina – Help desk for COVID-19

This project aims to unpack and document the systemic exclusions of stateless persons or those at risk of statelessness in Macedonian society in the context of COVID-19. Bairska Svetlina is functioning as a Help Desk for the Roma community, offering information and legal advice to support people with applications for government food cards, help packages, understanding quarantine regulations and applying for documents. Specific cases of COVID-19 exclusion are documented through interviews, which function as a two-way information exchange. Data collected will be used as an advocacy tool to engage relevant stakeholders to raise awareness of the issue and place statelessness on the agenda.

“The Roma community, NGOs and the authorities need to collaborate to raise awareness, identify needs and provide direct assistance to the Roma people. In the long run, greater effort is needed to ensure that Roma are included in society and have equal access to basic needs, improving infrastructure, access to healthcare, housing, employment and education. The vulnerabilities and needs of the Roma should be considered by the EU, the European Parliament, donors and all other stakeholders to ensure this community are able to cope with the effects of COVID-19.”

Bairska Svetlina President, Remzi Medik

The project has raised awareness and identified approaches to solving problems. The Roma community and institutions have recognised the role of the Help Desk in contributing to addressing many of these challenges. To date, 100 families have been supplied with humanitarian packages and 50 children were gifted with relief packages donated by the Mayor of Bitola. Further, 130 families have been successfully assisted in applying for social benefits.

Phiren Amenca (Walk with us) - Learn my name

This project aims to tackle statelessness in Montenegro by documenting the exclusion of the Roma community within Podgorica via evidence-based research and developing a better understanding of the impact of exclusionary COVID-19 relief policies. The findings of this project will be used as a basis for advocacy, initiating dialogue with humanitarian and government actors, calling for the simplification of procedures and improving regional collaboration.

"Our goal is clear: in times of COVID-19 aid should be distributed to all vulnerable groups, regardless of documentation, and we should reopen the public call to resolve legal status and simplify the entire procedure. These are not simple steps, but either way we have to do it, for the sake of people who over the last few decades have been denied basic human dignity."

Phiren Amenca Executive Director, Elvis Beriša

The impact of this project is primarily reflected in obtaining more accurate data on the number of people with unresolved legal status, as well as understanding how the distribution of COVID-19 aid took place and how many people were left out. In discussions with relevant institutions, there have been visible shifts and sensitisation on the issue, as well as recognition of the necessity to reopen a public call to submit requests for the resolution of legal status in Montenegro. The project has also placed additional pressure on the Montenegrin Government to honor its pledges to engage in European political activities to end statelessness.

The roadmap for change

The Report documents in detail, the situations in Montenegro and North Macedonia, as well as a number of other countries around the world. It also sets out a Roadmap for Change, which is a practical three-step guide that serves as a framework for resolving and addressing the structural discrimination and exclusion of stateless people, during COVID-19 and beyond. Drawing on the experiences and expertise of Consortium members, the Roadmap can inform and guide the responses of governments, UN agencies, NGOs and others. The three steps of the Roadmap are:

  1. Check for Institutional Blind-Spots, engage in careful introspection and review policies and practices to ensure that stateless people are not left behind.
  2. Include, Consult and Engage in Dialogue with stateless people, to ensure fully inclusive responses.
  3. Build Back Better so that when ‘normalcy’ returns, there is a lasting commitment to breaking down the pervasive injustice, indignity, inequality, deprivation and exclusion that stateless people face.

The COVID-19 Emergency Statelessness Fund (CESF) Consortium

In June 2020, one year before the launch of this report, the Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion (ISI) initiated the COVID-19 Emergency Statelessness Fund (CESF) Consortium, a dedicated and time-bound initiative that enables us to raise and channel resources to, strengthen capacities of and work in partnership with a Consortium of NGOs and citizenship rights activists at the frontline of the COVID-19 crisis.

The focus of the CESF is to challenge the exclusion of stateless persons and find ways to ensure that the barriers they face – practical, legal, political – are recognised and broken down. However, while the focus is on structural solutions, the fund is also used to provide stop-gap humanitarian relief in cases where urgent humanitarian needs are identified by partners on the ground and there are no other means to address them swiftly, in order to offer short-term relief while working towards a structural solution. 

The experience of the CESF Consortium leads us to believe that together we can make the change that is needed, and indeed, together we must.

Join us for the launch of "TOGETHER WE CAN: The COVID-19 Impact on Stateless People & A Roadmap for Change" to unpack the findings of the report and learn about the experiences of CESF Consortium members working directly to address the COVID-19 impact on stateless people. Sign up here!

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