Reflections from Madrid and galvanising action to solve statelessness in Europe

Chris Nash, Director of the European Network on Statelessness
/ 6 mins read

The launch of a new strategy is always a moment for looking both back and forwards. This week we published our new five-year strategic plan Solving Statelessness in Europe which provides exactly such an opportunity to reflect on how far we have travelled over the last five years since founding our Network, but also how much remains to be done.

We are very proud of our progress in transforming from an idea to a dynamic organisation with a dedicated staff team of five and a committed membership spanning 40 European countries. An external evaluation of our work since 2014 found that we have successfully mobilised key actors around the issue of statelessness and established ourselves as a respected and credible voice. The evaluation concluded that we have filled a critical gap, galvanising civil society action on an issue that was previously largely hidden and ignored.

But at the same time, the somewhat sobering reality remains that too little action on statelessness has yet been taken by governments who still too often fail to see it as a priority issue, particularly in the context of migration. This is one reason why later this month, along with our partner the Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion, we will launch a new #StatelessJourneys project microsite armed with tools to help stakeholders better understand and tackle issues relating to the nexus between statelessness and forced migration. We also recognise the need to further build our partnerships with organisations working on other issues affecting stateless people’s lives, including child rights, gender, access to justice and anti-discrimination.

Our Strategic Plan 2019-23 ‘Solving Statelessness in Europe’

Our new Strategic Plan outlines how we intend to move forward in the next stage of our journey, to capitalise on the strength of our membership and our authoritative voice on statelessness and translate this into tangible change for stateless people in Europe. The plan was informed by extensive consultation with staff, trustees and members, as well as the evaluation, which sought the views of members and external stakeholders on our work to date. It is intended for internal and external audiences alike, setting out our strategic goals and objectives for the next five years at a glance, and will form the basis for our internal operational plan. We will report on the objectives to trustees, members and donors as part of our ongoing monitoring and evaluation processes.

A key overarching priority of our strategy, articulated in Goal 4, is the recognition that we need to improve how we work with stateless communities to inform and deliver our mission, and to strengthen and diversify the voices speaking out on statelessness. As covered in our blog last week we are taking forward an exciting new #HearItFromUs project, supported by EPIM, which will see us hold a series of community engagement workshops in the UK, the Netherlands and Spain over the coming months as the next step for this work. This is also an integral part of our commitment under Goal 1 to deliver strong communications work and to grow awareness of statelessness by sharing evidence, knowledge, and experiences with diverse audiences. Under both Goals 1 and 3, our Statelessness Index is increasing our ability to effectively feed expert commentary and analysis into key debates, policy agendas and treaty body monitoring processes. For example, this year our Index data has formed the basis for joint submissions under the Universal Periodic Review on Italy and Slovenia. In recent months we have also established a dedicated working group and an online strategic litigation forum signed up to by over 50 of our members as we seek to develop a new multiannual litigation strategy ahead of a litigation workshop we will hold in Amsterdam in June.

Under Goal 2 we aim to strengthen collaboration and achieve change through a pan-European network by maintaining an effective and sustainable membership that is diverse, informed, engaged, and resourced to work on statelessness. We are excited for example that this year we have welcomed four Roma-led organisations as new ENS members off the back of our #RomaBelong project. This year we have introduced a new sub-granting scheme towards our members to help ensure that our joint campaigning and advocacy is designed to reflect their priorities and capacities, and to enable their sustained engagement and secure lasting impact. We are also exploring innovative ways to improve how we share information with and between members, including planned discussion at next year’s Annual General Conference which we will hold alongside a major pan-regional conference organised in partnership with our Spanish members in Alicante in Spring 2020. Sitting alongside our new strategic plan, we have designed a new monitoring and evaluation framework to better evidence our impact, to report to donors and partners and to effectively target our resources towards our strategic objectives.

Reflections from UNHCR International Statelessness Conference in Madrid

Last week while attending and presenting at an intergovernmental conference on statelessness in Madrid I was struck by the vocal and constructive participation of the assembled government representatives from 35 European countries. The purpose of the gathering, organised jointly by UNHCR and the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, was to serve as a preparatory event ahead of the High Level Segment on Statelessness which will take place during UNHCR’s ExCom meeting in October to mark the halfway point of the #IBelong campaign. Only time will tell if the constructive interventions by states present in Madrid translates into firm pledges that are in turn implemented in a timely manner. But getting states talking about and recognising the issue is clearly an important start.

In this regard, during discussions at the conference I was struck by the obvious utility of our Statelessness Index in enabling me to quickly flag good practices as well as gaps that could be filled through pledged action. Indeed, some government representatives approached me during the meeting to acknowledge that the Index had served to highlight law or policy gaps that they were unaware of, or to seek clarification about the basis for our analysis. This reinforces our hope that the Index as an organic tool can facilitate an ongoing dialogue with, and online information-sharing facility between, states as well as other stakeholders. And of course to serve as an effective tool for monitoring progress and holding governments to account. We are excited about the potential to continue to develop the Statelessness Index as a catalyst for reform, encouraging states to enact law and policy that not only meets international standards, but reflects best practice.

In private conversation with a civil servant from one country it was noteworthy that she explicitly encouraged ENS “to be more vocal ” in drawing attention to her country’s failings in its treatment of stateless people, and in particular the continuing absence of a dedicated statelessness determination procedure. Her point was essentially that her government had so many other competing policy priorities in terms of asylum and migration management that louder voices were needed in drawing attention to the serious problems and rights abuses faced by stateless people, including in a migratory context. Of course, each country context is different but it was a valuable reminder why we should not shy away from publicly criticising government as part of our constructive engagement with them. It remains both surprising and deeply unacceptable that so few European states have set up dedicated statelessness determination procedures and protection mechanisms which are an essential  prerequisite in enabling countries to meet their international obligations towards stateless people.

The event in Madrid also featured the launch of a new photo exhibition ‘Stateless - the Labyrinth of the Invisible’ which powerfully helped bring home the devastating human impact of statelessness.

Looking ahead, it may be unrealistic to believe that we can fully solve statelessness in Europe in just five years. But ultimately, working with our members and partners, we must believe that we can achieve a Europe where all stateless people access their rights and all states have legal frameworks in place to protect stateless people and prevent new cases of statelessness arising.

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