Using the #StatelessnessIndex as a teaching tool: enhancing the capacity of legal aid centres and improving the quality of legal assistance for stateless people

Mykhailo Sorochyshyn and Oleksandr Snitko, The Tenth of April
/ 4 mins read

Comparative tools such as the #StatelessnessINDEX are not only useful for identifying deficiencies in national legal frameworks and assisting in the development of domestic policies based on best practice, but can also be used to improve the quality of free legal advice for stateless people. This approach was used in Ukraine as part of a training for legal aid practitioners organised by Desyate Kvitnya.

“Desyate Kvitnya” (10th of April) is an NGO based in Odessa, Ukraine. It works to provide legal and social aid to refugees, internally displaced and stateless persons in the Southern region of Ukraine. It is a UNHCR implementing partner and joined ENS in 2017. The organisation participated in the #StatelessnessINDEX project and continues to provide updates and dissemination of its results.

As part of our work to address statelessness and to promote the use of the #StatelessnessINDEX, Desyate Kvitnya organised a workshop for advocates and legal practitioners working at Free Legal Aid Centres (FLACs). The workshop was held in Odessa at the legal club of the Ministry of Justice called “PRAVOKATOR”, with practitioners from other regions joining the training via video conference. The main goal of the training was to raise awareness about statelessness and build capacity and understanding of its causes and how it can be addressed through available legal remedies. The second part of the workshop was devoted to an analysis of existing good practice by the national courts and the European Court of Human Rights.

Ukraine has one of the largest stateless populations in Europe. According to UNHCR and based on data from government sources, UNHCR field offices and NGOs, the stateless population of Ukraine is 35,363 people. However, the number is likely higher, with NGOs and the Ukrainian Ombudsperson reporting different figures. The population grew significantly after the dissolution of the USSR and is further increased by the geographic proximity to the internationally unrecognised state of Transnistria. Additionally, a temporary occupation of the Crimea and parts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions created new populations at risk of statelessness. These include those who reside or have obtained their personal documents directly from authorities in these territories.

Ukraine is party to almost all relevant international and regional instruments, including three of the core statelessness conventions. However, there are gaps in protection and efforts to prevent and reduce statelessness. Ukrainian law does provide for a stateless status with a right to residence, work, social security, housing, education, and healthcare. But the Ukrainian definition of a stateless person is narrower than the 1954 Convention, and there is no dedicated procedure to identify and determine statelessness, despite a pledge made in 2011 to introduce one. Administrative procedures are weak and legislation inconsistent, making it difficult for people to claim stateless status and documentation.

Considering this, one of the main aims of the training was to provide advocates and legal staff working at FLACs with information on how domestic legislation corresponds with international standards, and what legal instruments are available to tackle specific cases of statelessness. While statelessness cases are not often taken up by FLACs, they are some of the most difficult to resolve. This is mostly due to gaps in law and procedure and low awareness among government officials, as well as those affected. Corruption can also be an obstacle hindering efforts to address statelessness. Above all, stateless persons in Ukraine are not entitled to free legal aid, and in most cases, advice is provided on a pro bono basis.

Training participants were surprised to find that Ukraine is state party to almost all the relevant international and regional instruments for the protection of stateless persons and prevention of statelessness, and in some cases, national legislation is more in line with international standards than some of its European neighbours. All participants agreed that full implementation of these standards in Ukraine would fundamentally change the situation on  the ground for stateless people for the better.

The participants were interested in sharing ideas and experience on how to resolve cases. While legal practice differs widely across different regions of Ukraine, the event was a great opportunity for lawyers to discuss the effectiveness of different approaches depending on the local context.

It was clear from the training that legal professionals in Ukraine are ready to address the issue of statelessness head on, and to use the Index effectively in their work. Desyate Kvitnya welcomes the Government’s commitment to introducing a statelessness determination procedure in Ukraine and is ready to work alongside the authorities to ensure that the new procedure is in line with international standards and good practice, and can provide the protection that stateless people in Ukraine are entitled to under the 1954 Convention.

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