Anna Maria Corazza Bildt is a Swedish Member of the European Parliament. She is the co-chair of the EP Child Rights Intergroup and is an active advocate for the right of all children to a nationality. We spoke about her work, the role of the European Union in eradicating childhood statelessness and the challenges ahead.
You’ve been a leading children's rights champion in the European Parliament. Could you tell us about the work of the Child Rights Intergroup and why were you so keen to take up the issue of childhood statelessness as an important part of the group's agenda?
It is unacceptable that to this day, children in Europe are born stateless. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), ratified by every EU member state, is very clear that all children have the right to a nationality. But as your supporters will know all too well, this is not the case, and thousands of children in Europe find themselves - through no fault of their own - growing up stateless and facing daily problems accessing basic services like healthcare and education. We shouldn’t forget that every child is first and foremost a child regardless of their legal status. In view of that, it is paramount that Member States take the necessary steps to ensure that every child enjoys his or her right to a nationality and the rights associated with that.
The Child Rights Intergroup which was founded in 2014 is a permanent body responsible for promoting children’s rights across all European Parliament policies and legislation. It is the first formal body in the Parliament, with a cross-party representation of committed MEPs, that mainstreams children’s rights, assesses and influences legislative and non-legislative work on children and makes sure that children’s rights are on top of the EU agenda. With that in mind the Intergroup is fully committed to pursue eradication of childhood statelessness through the joint work we do.
In 2016, 35 ENS youth ambassadors from across Europe met with you to call for action and discuss ways to end childhood statelessness and to hand over our #StatelessKids petition with over 22,000 signatories. Were you surprised to see so many young people concerned and committed to tackling statelessness?
It was indeed a great event to welcome the young ambassadors to European Parliament and listening to them. I was astonished to hear them speak so eloquently, with a clear message, commitment and passion that change is possible. Childhood statelessness brings hardship and anguish to children and their parents alike. This was clear to everyone in the room after hearing Mazen, one of the youth ambassadors speak at the joint ENS and EP Child Rights Intergroup. Mazen, a stateless Palestinian from Syria, told of the struggles brought on by growing up without a nationality, his journey to Cyprus and how he was finally able to find a home and a sense of belonging. Like Mazen, there are many other children in Europe who face the same struggles due to a lack of nationality. It is shocking to know that over half of European countries don’t have necessary safeguards in place to protect children from statelessness. European countries have a responsibility to protect these children. This is a problem that is entirely solvable through effective safeguards - legal measures, administrative good practice and regional cooperation.
The #Statelesskids campaign is a good example of how to bring children’s rights to the attention of European leaders and create the momentum and the political will to pursue long term solutions.
You spoke very passionately at the ENS and UNHCR meeting in European Parliament last November about the urgent need to protect thousands of Roma children living in Europe without a nationality. What do you see are the opportunities ahead to push for effective reform on the issue?
Roma children are European children like everyone else. We have a responsibility to protect them without discrimination nor double standards, and Member States should find holistic solutions to address statelessness of Roma children, in particular tackling the challenges of the lack of identity documents. Roma children struggle to prove their entitlement to a nationality despite the fact that in some cases they have lived in the same place for generations. All EU Member States should put in place effective safeguards to identify stateless people to stop the legal limbo that is still affecting many Roma children across Europe in accordance with the existing International law so that they have access to health care, education and later on employment etc.
I welcome the results of the #RomaBelong research on the Western Balkans and Ukraine by ENS, European Roma Rights Centre and the Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion.
The EU Enlargement process is a unique opportunity for the EU Institutions to ensure that discrimination against Roma and statelessness is comprehensively addressed as a matter of priority. Candidate countries should take steps such as allowing children to acquire the nationality of the country in which they were born if they would otherwise be stateless and ensure universal birth registration to prevent statelessness.
With everything that has happened in global politics in 2017, what do you think are some of the biggest challenges ahead for those working on children's rights and what keeps you positive?
Over the last couple of years, we’ve witnessed some unprecedented changes, which require politicians to come up with more bold responses. One such area is migration. For example according to the UNHCR, in 2017 alone over 14,000 unaccompanied and separated children arrived in Greece, Italy, Spain and Bulgaria. These migrant children are especially vulnerable to trafficking and exploitation and need adequate protection. A child is first and foremost a child regardless of their migration status or that of their parents. To me, finding permanent solutions and putting in place measures to address this is a priority in my day-to-day work.
Children in the context of migration have been at the heart of the work of the Intergroup since its establishment. We tabled amendments in the debate on the Common European Asylum System to make sure migrant children are granted upon their arrival with immediate access to dignified accommodation, education and healthcare on equal footing with national children.
I am very pleased that we took the first step in the right direction with the passing of the resolution on protection of children in migration. Among other things, we called on the EU and its Member States to ensure that childhood statelessness is adequately addressed in national laws and we pointed out that childhood statelessness poses serious human rights challenges and delays the process for determining the status of children and denying them access to basic services. The call which came about as a result of good cooperation between ENS and the Child Rights Intergroup will provide a basis for our work to address childhood statelessness and now that the resolution was adopted I look forward to continue working together to follow up with concrete actions.