Statelessness in the Asia Pacific: The birth of Nationality for All

Subin Mulmi, Executive Director, Nationality for All (NFA)
/ 6 mins read

With the increase in cases of statelessness in the Asia Pacific region and the impact of COVID-19 on stateless persons, Statelessness Network Asia Pacific (SNAP) made a decision to transform from a network to a partner-based organization, resulting in the birth of Nationality for All (NFA). Building on the regional network of SNAP, NFA participated in a regional mapping process to determine the partners and the type of engagement with the partners. After a year-long process of mapping and consultation meetings, NFA has now paved a roadmap to collaborate with local, national and global stakeholders working on statelessness to address statelessness by creating spaces and leadership of stateless persons and/or persons with lived experience of statelessness.

Assam North East, India, Harvesting, Rural women workers are plucking tender tea shoots in tea gardens
Assam North East, India, Harvesting, Rural women workers are plucking tender tea shoots in tea gardens

SNAP was launched in November 2016 as a civil society coalition with the goal of promoting collaboration on addressing statelessness in the Asia Pacific region. SNAP invited grassroot organizations, national and regional NGOs, academics and researchers, and most importantly stateless persons to become members of the network and by 2019, had a membership of over 300 organizations and individual experts, with around 50  members actively involved in SNAP's activities.

In the four years of operation, SNAP collaborated with members to conduct several studies which were mostly focused on South-East Asia.  SNAP further worked with its international and country-based members to submit collaborative submissions to the Universal Periodic Review and to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women as well as in-person meetings, trainings, webinars, and online discussions with the members.

Overall, SNAP’s work included targeted government engagement, identifying and disseminating good practices relevant for the region, utilizing international and regional mechanisms, supporting strategic litigation, and developing evidenced-based research, tools, and training to support members and leaders in affected communities in their national work.

The Legacy of SNAP

In early 2020, building on the growing attention and momentum to address statelessness in the region, SNAP and its 100 members across more than 20 countries developed a 5-year advocacy strategy with a vision of ending statelessness in the region and achieving 'nationality for all'.

With the largest proportion of the world’s stateless population in Asia Pacific, and with the Rohingya and Assam crises intensifying the statelessness crisis in the region, SNAP decided to expand the Secretariat structure, member network and the targeted work-plan for the region.  This led to the formation of Nationality for All (NFA).

The Genesis of NFA

Nationality for All (NFA) was formed in October 2020 from the work undertaken by SNAP over four years to build a regional civil society movement.  

During the organisational transition NFA acknowledged the need for a period of reflection to better understand the statelessness problem, the actors involved, the communities affected, and the data and information available.

Mapping Project

NFA commenced a regional mapping project comprised of desk research, surveys, and consultations in late 2020. This internal research was undertaken as the basis for forming NFA’s strategic plan. Through this mapping project NFA aimed to:

  • Gain a broad understanding of the legal and administrative frameworks as they apply to citizenship regimes of all countries across the Asia-Pacific Region, and to begin to see the disjunct between these regimes on paper and in practice.
  • Strengthen relationships with and gather a database of key stakeholders at national, regional and international levels, building on the network members of SNAP but ensuring that we expanded beyond our members to include new organisations
  • Identify good practices from which NFA could learn, the needs of organisations and the gaps in the current work. 
  • Identify specific countries and contexts where NFA could focus on considering the scale of the problem in the region and the limited capacity of NFA.

Desk Research

Commencing in December 2020, desk research was undertaken, drawing on pre-existing research, reports, and national mapping projects with the aim to review and summarise the national and regional situation of statelessness, which included communities, stakeholders, and a broad overview of legal and administrative frameworks. Through the desk research NFA has developed sub-regional reports which will be developed into accessible info-graphs.


In November 2020, NFA launched a survey on ‘Advancing Rights and Protections for Stateless Populations, Refugees, and Communities with Precarious Legal Status’ drafted in collaboration with Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI) and Refugee Solidarity Network (RSN). One of the purposes of the survey was to gather information and connect to contacts to inform strategic priorities and highlight collaborative advocacy opportunities for stateless populations and refugees in host countries in the Asia-Pacific region.


In November and December 2020, NFA coordinated four separate consultations in collaboration with OSJI and RSN. While each consultation had a specific thematic focus, all were part of a broader examination of good practice in the region, within the framework of ‘Advancing Rights and Protections for Stateless Populations, Refugees, and Communities with Precarious Legal Status’.

Moving to a regionally based leadership

In January 2021, in response to the ongoing challenges relating to the COVID-19 pandemic in Asia, the Board and then Executive Director Grant Mitchell determined that the most strategic next step for the organisation was to move to a regionally based leadership model. In May 2021 I was hired as the new Executive Director.

Bilateral Meetings

Following my appointment, NFA conducted several bilateral meetings with potential partner organisations which were identified through the regional mapping project. These meetings have played a crucial role in shaping and informing NFA’s strategic plan and thematic priorities. NFA met with over 30 potential partners based in countries across the Asia-Pacific region including Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Thailand.

The roadmap ahead

Prior to the emergence of COVID-19 a five-year plan had been developed for the transition from SNAP to NFA. However, due to the impacts of the pandemic, a decision was made to revise the strategic plan. The new one-year strategic plan is based on the core value that persons with lived experience of statelessness should lead in determining how statelessness is addressed. For the next year, NFA is committed to supporting the leadership and agency of persons with lived experience of statelessness by ensuring their meaningful participation in the planning, design, implementation and monitoring of our activities. 

NFA's upcoming activities

Stakeholder Mapping 

NFA is now building on regional mapping and conducting a high-level mapping of the stakeholders in the South-East Asia region. Through this mapping process, NFA will explore the possibility of regional movement building and collaboration among the different stakeholders while facilitating dialogues between stateless persons and their coalitions with national NGOs and their networks.


NFA is currently conducting a study on the impact of COVID-19 on stateless persons in the Asia Pacific region. Additionally, NFA is supporting our partners to conduct research on arbitrary immigration detention of stateless persons.

Capacity Strengthening of Partners

NFA’s partners include grass-root organizations and coalitions of affected persons. NFA is currently supporting such organizations and coalitions to provide them necessary technical and legal expertise and support in their advocacy work.

Promoting inclusive spaces

NFA aims to act as the bridge between different stakeholders in a particular country or sub region, bringing them together to address the impacts and root causes of statelessness and prioritize the interests of persons with lived experience. NFA is a member of a few global coalitions and is trying to create spaces for fair and meaningful engagement of persons with lived experience of statelessness in the programming across the statelessness ecosystem.

Movement Building

After the completion of the high-level stakeholder mapping , NFA plans to explore the possibility of regional movement building and collaboration among different stakeholders to address statelessness with a fair and meaningful participation of stateless persons. NFA will work closely with our partners in Indonesia and Cambodia to support their national movement building process as well.

Through these activities, NFA looks forward to collaborations with local, national and global actors to address the causes and impacts of statelessness without undermining or denying the agencies of the stateless persons and by gradually supporting the leadership of the stateless persons.

Based on our work to date, it is clear that when persons with lived experience lead human rights initiatives and projects the likelihood of a sustained impact is higher. It is essential to bridge the gap between actors holding different levels of power and to foster a more cohesive, collaborative and therefore more sustainable approach to addressing statelessness in the region.

Given the diversity of the region, the problem of statelessness is quite unique in each country and context. These differences highlight that a one-size-fits-all approach does not work. However, NFA aims to bring actors together regionally to share learnings and success stories. This aims to support the development of national context-specific strategies through a bottom-up, participatory and solution-centric approach that upholds the best interests of the stateless persons.

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