Recognising recent progress in global efforts to address statelessness but also the need for greater engagement and resourcing

Chris Nash, Director and co-founder of the European Network on Statelessness
/ 8 mins read

Collective and collaborative action to end statelessness has always been at the heart of ENS’s mission. In this editorial, ENS Director Chris Nash reflects on the Network’s global advocacy work this year and looks forward to the realisation of the new Global Alliance to Eradicate Statelessness in 2024. 

Chris Nash

As we approach the end of 2022, it’s perhaps timely to reflect on bigger picture efforts to address statelessness globally. Despite our focus on Europe, we at ENS have always sought to engage in global advocacy spaces given that these can positively influence change efforts at regional and national level. We have also always tried to share our learning with sister regional networks and others involved as part of a growing global civil society coalition on stateless.

Equally, since launching our Network in 2012, we have sought to work in partnership with UNHCR at global, regional and country level given the Agency’s mandate on statelessness. This year has seen us gear up our engagement in global advocacy processes coordinated by UNHCR, for example endeavouring to better mainstream statelessness through the Global Compact on Refugees, as well as within the framework of development cooperation – most recently at the UNHCR High Commissioner’s Protection Dialogue which I attended in Geneva last week. We have also been supporting formative efforts to establish a Global Alliance to Eradicate Statelessness through our membership of an inaugural Taskforce set up to advise on this.

The Global Alliance to Eradicate Statelessness

When launched, the Global Alliance to Eradicate Statelessness will aim to increase collective advocacy efforts, catalyse political commitments and accelerate the implementation of concrete solutions to eradicate statelessness. It is envisaged that membership of the Alliance will be open to states, regional institutions, UN agencies, civil society organisations, stateless people/communities, faith-based groups, academia and other relevant actors.

As part of the Taskforce set up to advise on the formation of the Global Alliance, it’s been a real pleasure to sit with such knowledgeable colleagues with diverse profiles and organisational affiliations. Since September we’ve been working hard to develop a mission statement, governance modalities and core objectives. This shaping is still underway but in broad terms the aspiration is that the Global Alliance will convene all relevant stakeholders, including stateless-led organisations, to support collective and collaborative action to end statelessness. It will seek to build collective capacity of its members by providing a platform for learning and exchange. It will endeavour to catalyse change by identifying gaps that lead to or prevent the resolution of statelessness, or prevent stateless people from enjoying their rights until they acquire a nationality, and building the political will needed to solve the problem.

The New Global Alliance to End Statelessness

As part of this formative process, consultations have also been held (or are scheduled) with states, the wider UN system and civil society - an example of which is the consultation meeting in Istanbul which I helped facilitate last month. This breadth of engagement reflects the fact that at its core the Global Alliance aspires to be a diverse multi-stakeholder coalition which is as inclusive as possible. This is very much to be welcomed, although equally it will require flexibility on all sides with regards to adapting conventional working approaches, including to ensure that stateless people themselves feel confident participating in the process.

Participants at a Global Alliance consultation meeting with civil society actors held in Istanbul on 28/29th November
Participants at a Global Alliance consultation meeting with civil society actors held in Istanbul on 28/29th November

For me, what’s exciting about the Global Alliance is its potential to help ensure that statelessness remains a global priority after UNHCR’s #IBelong campaign ends in 2024. It’s no coincidence that this is also the intended public launch date for the Alliance, which will start to become operational from mid next year. This is critical given that many of the #IBelong campaign’s laudable objectives remain unmet despite various notable awareness-raising and reform successes. Hence the Global Alliance, if taken forward in the right way, could successfully build on this platform and gradually address remaining gaps by galvanising a more targeted and inclusive approach in bringing together and engaging more diverse stakeholders necessary to achieve change in countries and regions where historically this has been elusive.

Adding value and securing necessary resourcing

Moving forward, one thing to highlight is the need for the emerging Global Alliance to ensure that its activities add value rather than duplicate existing work, or worse still, divert already stretched actors from their current efforts. In terms of civil society involvement, complementarity also needs to be ensured with and among regional networks, as well as the nascent Global Movement on Statelessness. Those working in this field are already often over-stretched and under-resourced. Often. stateless activists and community representatives in particular find themselves called upon (however well-intentioned) to engage with initiatives without sufficient thought being given to how to adequately compensate their time and support their engagement by making the process and modalities more accessible.

More broadly, the success of the Global Alliance will be dependent on the availability of new resourcing and success in generating new funding streams to support statelessness work. While the Global Alliance is very much meant to complement rather than duplicate or replace UNHCR’s core programming on statelessness, bolstering the latter will nonetheless be critical if the Alliance is to fulfil its potential. It’s worth recalling that the idea of the Alliance emerged from a 2021 evaluation of UNHCR’s statelessness work which recommended that the Agency set up and lead “a lasting multi-stakeholder coalition to carry the statelessness agenda forward after the conclusion of the #IBelong campaign in 2024” (Recommendation 4). But adequately buttressing this will necessitate UNHCR continuing to prioritise statelessness work in all its programming and budgeting at global, regional and national level. Hence, to this end it will be important for UNHCR’s senior leadership to continue to robustly monitor effective implementation of all the evaluation recommendations, as highlighted in this blog piece I wrote earlier this year.

Mainstreaming statelessness within the Global Refugee Forum

Engaging states and regional policy makers with the Global Alliance will also be critical if it is to achieve its full potential. In this regard, an early opportunity to raise awareness and garner interest – particularly among states - will be at the next Global Refugee Forum (GRF) in December 2023, and through ongoing implementation of the Global Compact on Refugees. The Global Compact is a framework for more predictable and equitable responsibility-sharing, recognizing that a sustainable solution to refugee and other forced displacement situations cannot be achieved without international cooperation. As part of this process, Global Refugee Forums (organised by UNHCR and held every four years) provide the international community with the opportunity to come together around these shared objectives, including through solution finding and pledging. This process already includes around 300 statelessness pledges made by states at the 2019 GRF which provides a firm platform from which to build on.

However, despite this significant volume of statelessness pledges it’s fair to say that the issue of statelessness - as both a cause and consequence of forced migration - was not sufficiently visible at the inaugural GRF in December 2019. However, it’s welcome to see it better recognised as a critical cross-cutting issue in the concept note prepared by UNHCR ahead of the next GRF. There was also useful momentum evident at a statelessness stocktaking session held in the run-up to the High-Level Officials Meeting last year. Through our attendance and interventions at this and other GRF consultation meetings, we at ENS have consistently sought to mainstream the issue of statelessness. I was also honoured to be invited to sit on the inaugural NGO reference group for the GRF which provides a further opportunity to raise statelessness issues. It is to be welcomed that UNHCR are setting up this type of reference group to ensure an inclusive approach involving civil society actors.

Addressing statelessness to improve development outcomes

The other nexus area which seems particularly ripe for enhanced focus on statelessness is development cooperation. Last week I attended the High Commissioner’s Dialogue on Protection Challenges in Geneva - bringing together hundreds of states, UN agencies and civil society actors to discuss the theme of development cooperation aimed at advancing protection, inclusion, and solutions for forcibly displaced and stateless persons.

Historically, statelessness has often felt a bit like the elephant in the room when it comes to discussions on development cooperation i.e. when you consider the ostensibly obvious fact that citizenship is a gateway right to other rights and services such as access to healthcare, education and employment. Therefore, failing to address statelessness is not only a tragedy for individuals affected but also for the societies they live in terms of lost development and economic outcomes. Happily, at the Dialogue last week there appeared greater recognition of the need to tackle statelessness in order to improve development outcomes, including from actors such as the EU and UNDP which has included statelessness as a priority in its Global Collaboration Framework for Inclusion and Solutions.

During the Dialogue I made several interventions to emphasise the importance of addressing statelessness as part of effective development cooperation. Firstly, to point out that this must include addressing the root causes of exclusion such as gender discriminatory laws. Secondly, the need for vigilance in ensuring that efforts to ensure legal identity for all include rather than further exclude stateless people. Thirdly, and critically, the importance of ensuring that stateless people are supported and legally empowered to advocate their own solutions. These interventions received several supportive responses from key actors, including the UNHCR Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees, representatives from UNDP and the European Commission, as well as the US and other governments. Moreover, the point about ensuring legal empowerment of stateless communities is also a key recommendation from a recent UNHCR and IDLO Report on Addressing Statelessness through the Rule of Law.

It's what comes next that counts

I left Geneva feeling cautiously upbeat that together we are gradually increasing awareness and mainstreaming of statelessness in global advocacy forums, and that this can trigger much greater impact on the ground to help improve the lives of stateless people everywhere. Hopefully a final push under the remaining two years of UNHCR’s #IBelong campaign, followed by the launch of the new Global Alliance to Eradicate Statelessness in 2024, will significantly help further galvanises these efforts. And although important question marks remain around how to mobilise adequate resourcing and engagement levels, I for one find myself ending 2022 with a ‘cup half full’ mindset and looking forward to picking up this work again in the new year!

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