Last month just before the holiday break, I spent a week in Geneva attending the Global Refugee Forum. I was proud to be part of a delegation made up of sister civil society networks and community-led organisations committed to highlighting statelessness issues and solutions during the Forum.
Mainstreaming statelessness at the Global Refugee Forum
The Global Refugee Forum (GRF) is held every four years as the world’s largest international gathering on refugees, designed to support implementation of the objectives set out in the Global Compact on Refugees. According to UNHCR’s website, over 4,200 participants from 168 countries attended the 2023 Forum, including over 300 refugee delegates. A further 10,000 people followed the proceedings online.
Reading this, you might well be thinking 1) that there’s no mention of statelessness here, and 2) that’s a lot of people so how is it possible to leave much of an imprint as an advocate in this sort of space? Both are good questions, which I will try to answer.
Starting with the first, it’s clear to us (and probably you if you follow our work) that statelessness is not only highly relevant but should really be much more visible on the agenda of events such as the Forum. Statelessness is both a cause and a consequence of forced displacement, as recognised in the New York Declaration, which paved the way for the adoption of both the Global Compact on Refugees and the Global Compact on Migration. As we've highlighted in the past, statelessness is also highly relevant to the development agenda, given that nationality is a ‘gateway right’ to other economic and social rights and services, which are critical to achieving good development outcomes. It’s therefore perhaps not surprising that statelessness was the theme that attracted the highest number of pledges at the inaugural Global Refugee Forum back in 2019.
Turning to the second question, it’s true that getting hold of the microphone during plenary sessions at the Forum was nearly impossible due to the priority afforded to State representatives. There was also relatively less space for civil society interventions from the floor during side events compared to the inaugural GRF, which I attended four years ago. However, there were plenty of other spaces in which to advocate and seek to influence governments and other decision-makers.
GRF-linked event ‘Multistakeholder approaches towards ending statelessness’
The day before the Forum, ENS, along with several other civil society organisations, organised a GRF-linked event ‘Multistakeholder approaches towards ending statelessness’ featuring UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Cate Blanchett, and attracting over 140 people in the room as well as a further 200 online. Centre-stage alongside Cate Blanchett were stateless activists and changemakers Noor Azizah, Neha Gurung, Aleksejs Ivashuk, and Christiana Bukalo. All four spoke powerfully about the impact of statelessness, as well as expertly conveyed the solutions necessary to prevent and end it.
It was also welcome to have as a co-sponsor and speaker the government of the Philippines, which has been championing efforts to address statelessness in the Asia-Pacific region. Adriana Quinones from UN Women reminded us about the importance of addressing gender discriminatory nationality laws, and Patrick Eba from UNHCR signalled the relevance of the Global Alliance to End Statelessness as epitomising exactly the type of multi-stakeholder approach necessary to resolve statelessness once and for all.
GRF Parallel High-Level Event ‘From pledges to results: Realizing a world free from statelessness through collaborative action’
On the final day of the Forum, the statelessness baton was again taken up at a UNHCR-organised parallel high-level event ‘From pledges to results: Realizing a world free from statelessness through collaborative action’. Featuring UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner for Refugees, Gillian Triggs, this event provided an opportunity to trail the Global Alliance to End Statelessness, a new UNHCR-led multistakeholder coalition which will be formally launched later this year. It was also welcome to hear UNICEF Deputy Executive Director, Ted Chaiban, highlight UNICEF’s commitment to addressing statelessness and announce new pledges, including that UNICEF will join the Global Alliance.
The event highlighted a key component of the Alliance, namely its Solutions Seeker Programme – essentially an optimised pledging process, which has the potential to be highly transformative if it can secure sufficient buy-in from States. In this regard, it was very welcome to hear pledges orally delivered at the event by the US, as well as Iraq, Slovenia, Spain, Thailand, and the UK.
Regional institutions also took the floor, including the OSCE and CLARCIEV. From civil society, I was invited to present ENS’s pledges, namely 1) to join the Global Alliance 2) to roll out our new toolkit to identify and address statelessness in at least 10 countries 3) to expand our Statelessness Case Law Database to include at least 600 cases by 2027 and 4) to develop with Statefree and Apatride Network a new partnership model on working with stateless communities.
The second half of the event featured an engaging panel moderated by Maha Mamo and involving former Nansen Award winner, Azizbek Ashurov, as well as Kareen Jabre from the Inter-Parliamentary Union alongside two champion states, the Philippines and the Ivory Coast.
In between these two events, our delegation of global statelessness civil society actors was busy meeting various government delegations in the margins of the Forum. We also had a very constructive meeting with Elizabeth Tan, Director of UNHCR’s Division of International Protection, as well as Ruven Menikdiwela, newly-appointed UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner for Refugees.
Both acknowledged the importance of UNHCR maintaining a strong focus in its programming on addressing statelessness. They also recognised the importance of successfully launching the Global Alliance to End Statelessness. Elizabeth Tan also contributed this interview piece about the Alliance and why and how stakeholders should get involved to our latest newsletter.
Five ways in which the international community must step up its commitment to address statelessness
Reflecting back on the rich discussion and exchanges during the Forum, I start the new year with five key observations and recommendations on how the international community must now strengthen and increase its action to address statelessness.
1.) Increased UNHCR programming and prioritisation on statelessness: Following the end of its #IBelong campaign it will be critical that UNHCR not only maintains but significantly increases its prioritisation and resourcing on statelessness. Such a gear shift would align with the issue being one of the UNHCR High Commissioner’s current global strategic priorities, as well as part of the UN Secretary General’s Our Common Agenda. It would also be timely as we look ahead to the UN Summit for the Future taking place later this year. Moreover, this increased focus can be aided by ongoing robust implementation of all the recommendations contained in the 2021 external evaluation of UNHCR’s statelessness work.
2.) Statelessness must be better recognised and mainstreamed as a cross-cutting issue: Statelessness should be more prominent on the agenda of the next Global Refugee Forum in 2027, as well as in development discussion spaces, as the international community moves closer to seeking to meet the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.
3.) Adequately supporting and profiling the launch of the Global Alliance to End Statelessness: The Global Alliance needs to be prominently showcased when it is launched at the end of this year. A clear signal must be sent to governments, regional institutions, and sister UN agencies about its importance as a fulcrum for future global efforts to end statelessness. To achieve this, it would be most impactful if the Global Alliance can be launched at the High Commissioner’s Protection Dialogue scheduled for December 2024, which could be devoted to the theme of statelessness across its two days. Statelessness has never been the priority theme for the High Commissioner’s Dialogue so seizing the opportunity to do so in 2024 would seem a timely and strategic moment to change this. Such focus would facilitate much-needed attention on and alignment of statelessness with other relevant thematic nexus areas including not only forced displacement and development, but also climate change, gender discrimination, root causes, and the localisation agenda.
4.) Sufficient resourcing must be invested in programming on statelessness and to support activities by the Global Alliance: For the Global Alliance to succeed, far greater resourcing will need to be unlocked for all the stakeholders involved. In this regard it was very welcome at the GRF to hear the United States reiterate its commitment to addressing statelessness as one of its global strategic priorities. This sort of leadership role is critically important but it will also require many other donors to increase their investment in statelessness work, as well as for UNHCR to ringfence funding for its statelessness activities.
5.) The importance of supporting civil society and centring lived experience: As well as receiving necessary resourcing to facilitate a ‘whole of society’ approach, civil society must continue to be heard when discussing solutions to end statelessness. In particular, stateless people and their communities must be centred in changemaking efforts. Significant progress has already been made in this regard since the last GRF in 2019, but much more remains to be done to ensure inclusivity and equal partnerships in future. This is a key pillar of ENS’s new 2024-28 strategic plan.
I came away from Geneva very happy to have spent a week among so many inspiring colleagues as part of our statelessness delegation. This was in sharp contrast to leaving the Global Refugee Forum four years ago where I was the only representative attending from an organisation dedicated to working on statelessness.
So, going from being ‘one drop in the ocean’ to ‘fifteen drops in the ocean’ certainly felt like progress. But it also reinforces how collectively we still need to dramatically raise awareness about the issue, as well as secure the engagement of many new partners and supporters if we are ultimately to end statelessness.