What’s next for work to protect the rights of stateless refugees in Europe?

Nina Murray, Head of Policy & Research, European Network on Statelessness
/ 7 mins read

As we wrap up our #StatelessJourneys campaign and Comic Relief-funded Routes to Safety for Stateless Refugees project, we reflect on what we have achieved over the last four years and what’s next for our work with stateless refugees in Europe.

Stateless Journey Illustration

A challenging context

On the eve of European Parliament elections that could see a worrying regional shift to the Right, the EU has finally adopted its new Pact on Migration and Asylum, complicating an already complex situation for the right to asylum in Europe. On the ground, rights violations continue to be reported daily at our borders, people seeking safety are still being forced into deadly journeys, and the spaces and resources to defend human rights are shrinking. We cannot pretend that the wider context for our work is favourable.

Back in 2020, when we secured funding to bolster our #StatelessJourneys initiative, the world was facing another existential challenge in the COVID-19 pandemic, which had a dramatic impact on all of us and our ways of working. The pandemic pushed everyone to channel energy and resources into finding new ways to connect and share knowledge virtually, opening online spaces for dialogue and decision-making for those unable to travel, including stateless people. A further seismic shift occurred in February 2022 when the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine pivoted Europe’s focus to respond to mass displacement within the continent. The conflict in Ukraine has drawn much-needed attention to the acute challenges faced by those who are stateless or have undetermined nationality among the displaced, and for whom tailored responses are urgently needed.

Over the last four years, despite these external challenges, our project work and #StatelessJourneys campaign have succeeded in putting statelessness firmly on the agenda of migration and asylum policy debates. EU and domestic laws have been reformed to better respond to statelessness. Refugee response actors now have access to tools and training to build their capacity to address statelessness. And, most importantly, stateless refugees have not only been heard but involved in co-developing solutions to issues affecting their lives and communities.

Rationale for the campaign

Research undertaken with our members back in 2018 found that statelessness was posing specific challenges for refugees at all stages of their journeys including errors in how their nationality is recorded, impacting in turn on access to protection, the rights of children, risks of detention, and barriers to inclusion, naturalisation, and/or return. Nationality problems were too often being overlooked by asylum actors. There was no guidance on how to identify statelessness, few tools to accurately record it, and limited support for stateless people to navigate the complex procedures in which they found themselves disadvantaged because of their lack of nationality. In fact, the 2020 Proposal for a new EU Pact on Migration and Asylum was completely silent on statelessness. Stateless refugees were invisible.

To address these gaps, we set out to engage affected communities and refugee response actors in research, workshops, capacity-building, and concerted advocacy and campaigning. We published detailed research (e.g. on children in migration and Palestinians’ access to protection) and bite-sized information briefings. We co-developed tools like our identification toolkit and training for asylum officials. We worked with stateless refugees like Lynn, Ahmed, and Lok Maya to tell their stories and engage with decision-makers. We persistently briefed and channelled expertise to those with the power to affect law, policy, and practice change.

Campaign impact

Our campaign launch in Brussels in 2022 and pan-regional conference in Madrid in 2023 were pivotal moments at which our members and partners from across Europe gathered for galvanising discussion and action-planning. High-level decision-makers shared a platform with stateless changemakers and experts from across the region and made important commitments to champion change. Over the last four years, over 2000 people working in the refugee and migration sector across Europe have participated in training and capacity building initiatives organised by us and/or our members. Through our engagement with the EU Asylum Agency, asylum officials across Europe now have access to practical guidance on how to identify and record statelessness, training on statelessness, and more initiatives are in the pipeline.

A major impact of the campaign is that the new Pact on Migration and Asylum for the first time introduces binding provisions in EU asylum acquis that clarify the international legal definition of a stateless person, require Member States to identify indications of statelessness, respect their international obligations towards stateless people, strengthen their protection and access to fundamental rights, and register where an asylum applicant claims to be stateless pending a determination. This is significant. From invisibility in the original proposal, our combined efforts with members and partners – and a welcome push by the Spanish Presidency – succeeded in persuading the Commission, Parliament, and Council that the Pact should include clear requirements to identify where there are indications of statelessness.

Whilst we share the concerns of our civil society colleagues about the wider ramifications of the Pact, it is welcome that our calls for improved identification of statelessness were heard and incorporated in the adopted instruments. This represents a step in the right direction for the many thousands of refugees and migrants arriving in Europe who are stateless, at risk of statelessness, or whose children may be stateless.

What needs to happen next?

These new provisions now need to be implemented so statelessness is identified, and stateless people’s rights are respected in EU asylum systems. This will require us to work with our members and partners to monitor and influence the implementation process, and to continue to develop and roll out tools to support this. The momentum achieved through the campaign provides us with an important platform to strengthen our advocacy to ensure that all displaced stateless people can access protection and realise the full range of rights owed to them under international law. Now is a critical moment to capitalise on recent progress and push for the further reform needed. This will require significant new resourcing, as well as continued engagement by our members and partners.

In concrete terms, we need to ensure that the tools and resources now available to frontline practitioners are disseminated, understood, and used – asylum screening, registration, and decision-making officials must have access at the very least to basic information about statelessness, including the excellent EASO Practical Guide on Registration, which includes a section on identifying and recording nationality. Our new Toolkits to Identify and Address Statelessness, developed together with our members in different national contexts, will be vital to supporting these next steps. So, we need resources to cover as many countries as possible and ensure that tailored guidance is available to those working with refugees in different contexts. Officials must receive training on statelessness, and data collection mechanisms must provide for the (now required) possibility to identify and record indications of statelessness.

Crucially, we now need to focus our advocacy efforts on the outcome of asylum screening. Identification is the first step. As the Asylum Procedures Regulation establishes, the fact that a person claims to be stateless must then be registered pending a determination. This determination (ideally in a dedicated Statelessness Determination Procedure in line with good practice and international norms) must lead to formal recognition and access to the rights and protections enshrined in the 1954 Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, to which the vast majority of EU Member States are party. Importantly, these routes to protection must be accessible to all those who are stateless in a migratory context.

For our part, ENS’s work to improve access to protection for stateless refugees continues to be a priority area of focus going forwards. We will be closely monitoring and influencing implementation of statelessness provisions in the Pact, channelling the expertise of our members, including those with lived experience of statelessness, to hold governments to account. We are also continuing to monitor and influence Europe’s response to displacement from Ukraine, seeking to ensure that protection is sustainable and accessible to people whose lack of nationality status mean they cannot demonstrate their links to Ukraine. We need resources to be able to continue to support our members to deliver their vital work on the ground including casework, capacity-building, community engagement, tools-development, and advocacy, to build on the momentum achieved over the last four years and ensure that success on paper translates into tangible improvements in the lives of stateless people in Europe.

Our upcoming webinar  "What’s next for work to protect the rights of stateless refugees in Europe?" (Wednesday 29 May, 10:00-11:00 GMT / 11:00-12:00 CET), will delve further into the analysis of the progress made in advancing the rights of stateless refugees & migrants in Europe and will discuss next steps. Register online here.

Stateless Journey Webinar 2024
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