Following his address at our Stateless Journeys campaign launch, we caught up with the Chair of the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) Juan Fernando Lopez Aguilar. We asked him about Europe’s responsibility to tackle statelessness, what the European Parliament is already doing, and what more can and should be done to combat this fundamental human rights issue.
- Why does addressing statelessness matter to the European Parliament, and what steps has it taken to tackle the issue?
Addressing statelessness is key to Europe’s core values of freedom, democracy, equality, rule of law and respect for rights. Those denied access to nationality within the EU are, by extension, denied the possibility to contribute as EU citizens. Aware of this important issue, alerted by citizens and organisations such as the European Network on Statelessness, the European Parliament has taken action but can do more.
For example back in 2017, the LIBE and PETI Committees held a joint hearing on statelessness in the European Parliament, responding to a petition signed by over 22,000 people following an ENS online campaign. Some obvious but important recommendations were made by some participants e.g. the urgent need to harness political will to ensure that all EU member states accede to the two UN statelessness conventions, include and implement necessary safeguards against statelessness in domestic nationality laws, and introduce dedicated determination procedures to identify and protect stateless people. Also the need for EU institutions, including the European Parliament, to fully integrate the protection of stateless people and prevention of statelessness into the EU’s asylum acquis, the strategy on children’s rights and frameworks for ending discrimination.
- The war against Ukraine has exposed the additional risks stateless people can face when fleeing conflict. How has the European Parliament responded to this, including with regard to particular risks faced by children fleeing the conflict?
In April, the Parliament adopted a Resolution on EU Protection of children and young people fleeing the war in Ukraine. The resolution included important references to childhood statelessness. Approved in plenary by 509 votes to 3, the final text of the Resolution took on board many of the important recommendations made by ENS and its members, including signposting to information on the stateless population in Ukraine, and flagging obstacles to birth registration.
The Resolution calls on EU Member States not to discriminate against any child on the grounds of nationality status. It also makes key practical recommendations, firstly, that child protection officers and officials working at the border accurately identify and record a child’s nationality, statelessness, or risk of statelessness. Secondly, that disaggregated data (including on statelessness) is collected. And finally, that Member States ensure that a guardian is appointed to all unaccompanied children upon arrival, regardless of their nationality or immigration status.
- In your view how is statelessness relevant to Europe’s refugee response and the continuing development of a Common European Asylum System? What are some of the challenges currently faced by stateless refugees and how can these be addressed?
While the war in Ukraine has put a spotlight on the specific protection needs of forcibly displaced stateless people, the needs of stateless refugees fleeing other conflicts are too often ignored.
This is a problem as we know from Eurostat data that on average around 3% of asylum applicants to the EU each year are registered as stateless or ‘of unknown nationality’. And the true figure is likely to be much higher . Currently, many stateless refugees and migrants are often wrongly ‘assigned’ a nationality by officials based on their country of origin or the languages they speak. Many asylum seekers come from countries where gender discriminatory laws, state succession or protracted displacement mean they have lost or never acquired a nationality. These include people from Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, and the former Soviet Union, among others. Whether someone is stateless not only impacts on asylum decision-making, but also on the nationality rights of their children, as well as on access to related procedures like family reunification or resettlement, not to mention inclusion or the possibility of return.
It is critical to improve identification and recording of statelessness, referral to appropriate determination procedures and measures to support integration and inclusion. This would help end the harmful cycles of criminalisation, detention, and enforced destitution that many stateless people in Europe face today. Put simply, states must recognize and ensure the rights that stateless people, including children, are already entitled to under international law.
- It was disappointing that, as it was presented back in 2019, the Asylum & Migration Pact makes no explicit mention of the rights of stateless people, nor does it provide any clarity on how to properly protect them. Can you tell us what the Parliament is doing to fix this gap?
The omission of stateless people from the Commission Proposal for a Migration and Asylum Package was indeed disappointing. The Parliament is already finding ways to address existing gaps and has proposed coherent amendments to many of the individual Pact instruments that are currently being negotiated within the LIBE Committee. Many of the Parliament’s proposed statelessness related amendments will if adopted, not only improve respect for fundamental rights, but will also support more efficient migration management.
- What makes you hopeful that statelessness can be eradicated in Europe?
Firstly, to say how inspiring it is to hear the voices of stateless changemakers at events such as the one organised by ENS in Brussels. These voices of people with lived experience are vital in helping us find solutions, and in holding politicians to account. It was also very encouraging to hear Spain’s Ambassador to the EU acknowledge the importance of addressing statelessness at a pan-regional level, and to hear him describe some of the positive practices in my country Spain which could hopefully inspire other states to make necessary law reforms. Next year Spain will host the Presidency of the EU. Working alongside our counterparts in the European Council and the European Commission, as well as with support from civil society organisations such as ENS, I am convinced that the European Parliament can play a pivotal role in helping to get the issue of statelessness much higher up the EU’s agenda.