“There are no words to describe what it feels like to leave behind my years of non-existence, be allowed to come alive again, have an identity and belong to a society”, Railya Abulkhanova, formerly one of the estimated 10 million stateless persons in the world and now a French citizen, told the audience at the opening of the exhibition “Nowhere People – the Global Face of Statelessness” in Luxembourg.
On Wednesday, 7th of October, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the Luxembourg Presidency of the Council of the European Union and the University of Luxembourg joined forces to give visibility to the plight of stateless persons. An evening cocktail event opened the stunning photography exhibition by Greg Constantine, “Nowhere People – the Global Face of Statelessness”, and was attended by a mixed audience, from senior EU officials to students. This unique exhibition highlights the issue of statelessness across the globe and puts a face on this condition that affects an estimated 10 million people in the world. This is not the first active involvement of the Luxembourg Presidency of the Council of the European Union with the issue of statelessness. On 15th of September SCIFA (Strategic Committee on Immigration, Frontiers and Asylum) discussed the identification and protection of stateless people upon the initiative of the Luxembourg Presidency. The discussion led to the conclusion that the EU could play a role in data collection and exchanges of good practices on identification of stateless persons in the EU and a Council Conclusion to that effect is considered by the Luxembourg Presidency. UNHCR encourages EU Member States to support the initiative of the Luxembourg Presidency and is hopeful that this will open new opportunities for EU engagement on statelessness.
A number of speakers took the floor at the opening of the exhibition. John Fredrikson, UNHCR Regional Representative for Western Europe, highlighted the fact that ending statelessness is not difficult and that states can really make a difference. He believes that “unlike so many other problems facing governments today, statelessness can be solved in our lifetime”. A former stateless person, Railya Abulkhanova shared her heart-warming story with the audience. She explained the obstacles she faced when she became stateless after the disintegration of the Soviet Union and how becoming a French citizen this year changed her life. Finally, Greg Constantine, the photographer of the exhibition, shared his experience of meeting stateless persons all around the world. According to Greg, what struck him most in his work with stateless persons is that all of them shared the feeling of not belonging anywhere, no matter what country they lived in. He understands their wish to be recognized as human beings and, through his exhibition, he helps their plea to be heard.
The exhibition is open to all and can be visited at the Maison du Savoir of the University of Luxembourg, during the opening hours of the university, until the end of October. The end of the exhibition will coincide with the one-year anniversary of UNHCR’s global “IBelong” campaign to end statelessness within 10 years. This campaign highlights ten actions that states can easily carry out to achieve that objective, such as granting protection status to stateless migrants and acceding to the two UN Statelessness Conventions. Since it was held in Luxembourg, this event was also the opportunity to put back on the agenda the accession of the country to the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness.
You can view Greg Constantine’s photo exhibition at Maison du Savoir – Campus Belval of the University of Luxembourg, 2 avenue de l’Université, 4365 Esch-sur-Alzette, Luxembourg). To sign up to an open letter in support of UNHCR’s #ibelong campaign click here. UNHCR is also a key partner for the European Network on Statelessness’s #StatelessKids campaign which seeks to eradicate childhood statelessness in Europe.