Statelessness was one of the major hidden crises of the 20th century. It is reassuring that after the turn of the century, there has been an increase in international resolve to address statelessness. Greater attention and resources dedicated to statelessness by UN Agencies; markedly increased ratifications of the statelessness conventions, pledges on statelessness and new procedures to identify and protect stateless persons by states around the world; and growing activity and expertise on the issue amongst NGOs and academics are all examples of how the world is beginning to catch up with the complexities and massive human impact of this man made problem. As a result, awareness, understanding and visibility of the issue has grown. However, despite the strong nexus with refugee related issues and the immense human rights impact of statelessness, it is still very much a niche area, that hasn’t made it onto the curricula of universities, the agendas of NGOs or the policy priorities of states to the extent that it should.
To provide some perspective, the UNHCR estimates the global stateless population to be 12 million. Most agree that this is a conservative estimate, and as efforts to map statelessness in countries around the world are undertaken, we are becoming more aware of both the extent of the problem and the extent of our ignorance in relation to it. UNHCR has a much better grasp of refugee figures; in 2012 there were 10.4 million refugees of concern to UNHCR and a further 4.8 million refugees of concern to UNRWA. Additionally, 15.5 million internally displaced persons receive protection and/or assistance from UNHCR. Despite the similar sizes of these three vulnerable populations, no comparison can be made between the widespread nature of the awareness, expertise and resources on, and resultant protection available to refugees and even IDPs, as opposed to the stateless.
Organisations and individuals that work on the issue of statelessness are well attuned to the lack of awareness on statelessness at a more general level, and the negative impact this has on the human rights protection of stateless persons worldwide. Consequently, in March 2013, the Statelessness Programme of the University of Tilburg mooted the idea of an international day on statelessness. The European Network on Statelessness (ENS) supports this objective, and jointly with the Statelessness Programme, calls on UN Agencies and civil society organisations to rally together and lobby the UN General Assembly to adopt an International Day of Action against Statelessness.
International days of observance are an effective and practical way to raise awareness and generate momentum around an issue. According to the UN:
United Nations observances contribute to the achievement of the purposes of the UN Charter and promote awareness of and action on important political, social, cultural, humanitarian or human rights issues. They provide a useful means for the promotion of international and national action and stimulate interest in United Nations activities and programmes.
The 10th of December and the 20th of June are universally associated with human rights and refugees respectively. Observances on these days have over the years raised awareness on and the profile of the issues and challenges related to these respective fields and shed light on the work carried out by individuals and organisations in difficult environments. They have become annual celebrations of human rights and the rights of refugees and times for introspection, assessment and review of past failures. They have contributed towards the development of discourses around these issues and the creation of a culture which is more conducive to their promotion and protection.
We believe that an international day of observance on statelessness will have the potential to positively impact on the issue of statelessness, in the same manner that observances on human rights and refugees have impacted on their respective fields. We also believe that the time is now right to call for the adoption of an international day on statelessness. There is sufficient momentum on the issue, and we hope and believe a suitably robust core of individuals and organisations dedicated to the issue to make this call a success. Likewise, there is insufficient general awareness on statelessness, and therefore the benefits of having an international day of observance would be immense.
ENS appeals to all interested parties to join us in our call for the adoption of an international day of action against statelessness. As the world commemorates the 60th anniversary of the 1954 Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons in 2014, we hope that the first international day on statelessness will stand as a sign of universal acknowledgement of the human rights impact of this issue and our collective resolve to reduce and prevent statelessness and protect all stateless persons.
Contact ENS Coordinator Chris Nash at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information or to express support for this call. With enough backing we hope together to make an International Day on Statelessness a reality!