The Hungarian Ministry of Interior, in co-operation with Moldova, organized an expert meeting in the framework of the European Union (EU) Eastern Partnership (EaP) Panel on Migration and Asylum on implementing international obligations on statelessness. This thematic seminar took place in Budapest on 12-13 December 2013, with around 35 participants.
It brought together experts from the six EaP countries (Belarus, Moldova, Ukraine, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia) as well as from the EU Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland and Sweden, with the active participation of representatives of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the European Network on Statelessness and academia (Tilburg University, playing a leading role in statelessness related research in Europe). The general objective of the meeting was to share the participating States’ views about the domestic implementation of the two UN Statelessness Conventions and the relevant national legislations and to initiate discussions on the identification, reduction and prevention of statelessness as well as on the legal protection of stateless persons, their legal status and the specific statelessness determination procedures.
The EaP Panel on Migration and Asylum (www.eapmigrationpanel.org) was created in December 2011, as a successor of the former Söderköping Process, within the context of the EU Eastern Partnership’s Platform for Democracy, Good Governance and Stability. The Panel works towards strengthening the migration and asylum systems of Eastern Partner countries and advancing the dialogue on these issues between the EU and Eastern Partners, as well as amongst the Eastern Partners, in line with the EU Global Approach to Migration and Mobility. It holds regular high-level Panel Meetings and thematic Expert Meetings.
A Concept Paper was drafted in advance of the seminar in order to map the current situation, emphasising the global magnitude of the problem (according to recent UNHCR estimates, 10 million people are still without any nationality), and underlining that the existence of situations where persons are not considered to be nationals under the laws of any State is likely to continue in the long term. Europe, which hosts approximately 640,000 stateless persons, is one of the regions affected by this phenomenon, and this challenge remains high on the agenda, even over 20 years after the collapse of ex-Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union. However, the two major UN Conventions on statelessness have yet to be ratified by all EU Member States (24 Member States are parties to the 1954 New York Convention, while only 18 Member States are parties to the 1961 Convention). The Concept Paper went on to state that EU law referred to statelessness largely in an indirect manner and only lays down a limited number of specific rules. However, Article 67(2) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union makes explicit reference to stateless persons, stipulating that “[f]or the purpose of ... Title [V], stateless persons shall be treated as third-country nationals.” Some jurisprudence has also been developed concerning the status of the stateless (2001 Khalil case) and the avoidance of statelessness (2010 Rottmann case). On the other hand, the national practice and domestic legislation of some EU Member States regarding statelessness is more developed (e.g. those having already elaborated dedicated statelessness determination procedures (SDPs)). Some of the Eastern partner countries also have significant and relevant experience in this field (e.g. accessions to both UN conventions and operational statelessness determination procedures in place).
In order to further facilitate preparation for the Expert Meeting, a Questionnaire was drawn up and distributed in advance among all participant States about the ratifications of the Conventions and other regional instruments (e.g. Council of Europe conventions on nationality matters), the definition of statelessness, the existence of national SPDs, statistics, facilitated naturalization, and protracted statelessness situations etc. On the basis of the answers provided by participant States, a Synthesis report was prepared and sent to the participants ahead of the event.
The Expert Meeting thus provided not only a platform for an overview of the international legal aspects and recent trends of tackling statelessness, but also offered an opportunity to share the national practices and to exchange the relevant experiences of EU Member States and the Eastern partner countries on this common issue of concern. The discussion was split into two main sections. The first included an outline of the global context of statelessness, the issue of statelessness on the international political agenda in 2014 and beyond (international momentum, opportunities and challenges), and finally an overview of the emergence of statelessness as a protection issue and perspectives of statelessness to be dealt with under the EU framework for international protection. The second section focused on sharing experiences of functioning national statelessness determination procedures and preventing/reducing statelessness amongst EU Member States (with presentations by Hungary and Sweden) and Eastern Partners (with presentations by Moldova and Georgia).
In its introductory note, the European Commission recalled the two complementary approaches to the problem, which are prevention and reduction of statelessness on the one hand, and the protection of stateless individuals by creating an autonomous legal status with substantial rights attached to it, on the other hand. These two approaches are addressed by the two UN conventions. For the European Union, statelessness is relevant from the perspective of EU citizenship (Rottmann case) triggering some need for more coordination between Member States on this question. Reference was also made to the legal status of the stateless provided by the Lisbon Treaty assimilating them to third-country nationals and thus having consequence on their entitlement to rights or their treatment in an irregular situation (e.g. in the case of readmission). UNHCR has been promoting the accession to the two Statelessness Conventions and recently issued four sets of guidelines to assist states with interpreting and implementing their international obligations. The Hungarian Helsinki Committee and UNHCR expressed their appreciation of the increasing number of accessions to said Conventions and the streamlined developments in national legislations in recent years. Nevertheless, a lot more still needs to be done. UNHCR plans to implement a global campaign in 2014 and the Statelessness Programme manager (Tilburg University) set out some possible advocacy activities in the years to come. At the same time, some participants advocated that the EU could also play a more substantial role in this subject matter, the suggestions ranged from more advocacy vis-à-vis the Member States to ratify the relevant UN conventions to the idea of legislative responses, in connection with statelessness determination procedures or granting EU citizenship for long-term resident stateless persons (e.g. already reflecting those areas of intervention in the post-Stockholm programme setting the EU JHA policy actions after 2014).
In terms of national practices on identification, protection, reduction and prevention of statelessness, Hungary shared its latest policy developments, statelessness determination procedure and statistics, in order to demonstrate how statelessness can be effectively managed, both regarding legislation and the practice of status determination. Georgia and Moldova presented their national practices illustrating significant legislative and institutional progress achieved in terms of addressing statelessness. Moldova was named a model for the region and beyond. Pursuing the main goal to offer durable and sustainable solutions to stateless people, the experts concluded that one first important step for each participating State is to address legislative gaps and introduce efficient mechanisms to grant a legal status. As a conclusion of this section, all participants highlighted that it is crucial to have effective statelessness determination procedures in order to be able to grant a status to the highly vulnerable stateless individuals.
Dr. Tamás MOLNÁR is Head of Unit, Unit for Migration, Asylum and Border Management, Department of EU Cooperation, Ministry of Interior (Hungary); He is also adjunct professor, Institute of International Studies, Corvinus University of Budapest.