Interview with Chris Nash, ENS Director and Co-Founder

Interviews

As ENS prepares to mark its 10th anniversary at an event in Brussels next month, we spoke to our Director and Co-Founder Chris Nash about the genesis and development of the Network. We asked him to reflect on changes to the membership, the wider statelessness landscape and key achievements over the past decade, as well as ENS’s future plans. 

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Chris Nash
  1. Looking back at when you first founded ENS in 2012, how is the statelessness landscape different now?

When we founded ENS back in 2012 there were only a handful of organisations working on statelessness. This meant that the issue was hidden, easier for governments to ignore and thereby added to the marginalisation of stateless people. We set up ENS to try to do something about this. Fast forward ten years and we have undoubtedly helped shine a spotlight on the issue, which is now higher up policy agendas and much better understood in terms of its relevance to nexus issues such as forced migration, child rights, and anti-discrimination. We’ve seen increased attention by the EU and the Council of Europe, as well as positive law reform in countries such as Albania, Bulgaria, Norway, the Netherlands, Spain, the UK and Ukraine, to name but a few.

  1. How does the current network compare to your ambitions a decade ago?

Looking back at this blog I wrote to launch the network 10 years ago, I’m struck by how much we have grown since our very humble beginnings as a small Steering Committee consisting of just six founding members. Back then, we had a vision but no real resourcing or profile. To be honest, I didn’t necessarily expect we’d grow to have so many members across Europe, or that we’d be able to make such headway influencing diverse policy agendas at national, regional and global level. In the blog I wrote, “given the relatively limited understanding of the issue by both government and civil society actors there is a compelling need for more awareness-raising, training and provision of expert advice. ENS stands ready to provide this”. Working with and through our wonderful members, I hope and believe that we have made strong strides towards this goal. Our revamped website embodies our efforts - showcasing more than 600 outputs (blogs, research reports, policy papers, legal submissions, interviews, multimedia etc) that we have produced along the way. As a network, we have also run three pan-regional awareness-raising campaigns, organised over 20 regional roundtables/conferences and (with our members) held over 100 trainings.

  1. What are some of the stand-out projects and achievements of the past years for you personally? Looking back at 10 years of ENS’s work, what are you proudest of?

We’ve always placed an emphasis on innovation, so projects such as our Statelessness Index stand out for me. I’m a big believer in the maxim that if you can’t see a problem, you can’t stop it. The Index was designed precisely as a benchmarking tool to enable instant comparison of law, policy and practice in countries across Europe, and to pinpoint protection gaps where reform is required. Similarly, our Statelessness Case Law Database – launched last year - was developed in response to what lawyers in our network told us they needed to help bring about change through the courts. I’m also hugely proud of the way our members have rallied behind the various pan-European campaigns we’ve organised over the years - including our #StatelessKids campaign, which saw us publish research in 12 countries as a springboard to convene a major regional conference, hold two roundtables in the European Parliament as well as a Youth Congress, and to push an online petition signed by over 22,000 people. I still remember the excitement we all felt about this as a relatively young network, making up for our limited resources with an incredibly strong sense of togetherness, passion and drive. That’s the thing I’m probably most proud of, the way our members always show such great solidarity in coming together to address challenges, most recently evident in our responses to the Covid pandemic and the war in Ukraine.

  1. You often say “we are only as strong as our members” – how has the membership developed over the past decade?

Well, for a start we’ve grown much bigger. Sometimes, I have to pinch myself that we now have over 170 members in 41 countries. Coordinating our work with them, on an increasingly large and diverse range of projects, has also necessitated our Secretariat team to grow from initially just me (running around like a hamster in a wheel) to now having 10 highly talented and motivated Individuals on our staff team, supported by a committed Board of Trustees. But perhaps the biggest and most important change is how we’ve been able to diversify our membership to include many more stateless people and community-led organisations. I‘m incredibly proud of the progress we have made implementing our community engagement strategy, and the way that stateless changemakers within our network are playing an increasingly pivotal role helping to direct and lead our change efforts. Ultimately, we will only ever be as strong as our members, and it’s of course they who really drive and inspire our work.

  1. Looking ahead, what is next for ENS?

We have to believe that ending statelessness is possible. This is particularly so in Europe where we already have such good momentum to build on. At the same time, we need to be realistic about the pace of progress possible. This will take time given that many challenges confronting us when we launched back in 2012 remain as obstacles today. These include the fact that the statelessness issue is still not adequately mainstreamed across other relevant nexus policy agendas. This is precisely why next month we will launch our Stateless Journeys campaign, which aims to give a concerted push to get statelessness better prioritised by refugee response actors. We also have lots of other exciting plans in the pipeline. I have no doubt that as a network we have the requisite energy, expertise and passion but we need to find ways to secure resourcing commensurate with our ambition. Whatever the future holds, it’s a huge privilege to wake up each day and work with such amazing colleagues, members and partners. At we celebrate 10 years we are still young, and there remains so much to be done. But now is an important moment to pause and reflect, as well as warmly thank everyone for their support as we seek to redouble our efforts over the next 10 years!

We will be marking our 10-year anniversary at an event in Brussels on 27 October where we will hold a film screening and drinks reception gathering together members, partners and supporters, as well as others interested to learn more about ENS. You can register here.

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