The European Association of Former Members of Parliament of the Member States of the Council of Europe hosted a seminar in Malta on 3 November, addressing the current situation facing stateless people in Europe, and more narrowly the challenges faced by stateless persons in Malta. Entitled, ‘Statelessness’, the seminar was hosted by the House of Representatives in Malta with aditus foundation providing input on themes, invitees and the overall approach.
The Deputy House Speaker Hon. Claudette Buttigieg hit the ground running by expressing a significant political will to uphold Malta’s international obligations regarding the question of statelessness.
Former Ministers addressed the Parliament Chamber and voiced their support for Malta to move towards the ratification of the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, hitherto ratified by 89 countries with Luxemburg being the most recent addition. However, the shine of this progressive declaration was slightly dulled by the Former Deputy Prime Minister Dr. Tonio Borg’s statement that Malta is hesitant to ratify the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness. His comments focused on this Convention’s requirement that children born to stateless parents acquire the nationality of the country where they are born. This is contrary to the overhaul of Maltese nationality laws that took place in 1989, which moved away from a droit du sol towards a droit du sang approach.
UNHCR’s Statelessness Regional Protection Officer, Inge Sturkenboom, delivered a presentation on the current numbers of asylum applications by stateless people, and detailed the unique issues facing this specific bracket of asylum-seekers. These problems comprise unequal burden of proof requirements between the applicant and the authorities, as well as the current categorisation of stateless people as bearing ‘undetermined nationality’. According to UNHCR, this is mainly due to the lack of a standardised European approach to determining the status of stateless people within the Common European Asylum System.
The UNHCR experts illustrated how the procedures for the recognition of stateless people could be improved, with a burden of proof sharing approach as one such example. UNHCR urges that statelessness should only be a temporary status: as soon as a person is identified as stateless the relevant authorities should move towards facilitating their regularisation.
Calls were also made for Member States to review their current nationality laws so as to eliminate any discrimination based on gender or ethnicity in accordance with both the 1954 and 1961 Conventions.
The seminar concluded with a vote on a pre-prepared Declaration. After correcting certain linguistic issues, every delegate present voted in favour of the Declaration, which urges European countries to regularise and support stateless people and their children in Europe. All, that is, save the delegate from the United Kingdom who chose to abstain, though no reasons were given.
The near-unanimous pan-European support is encouraging. However, with regards to the seminar’s host country, despite a recent Roundtable held by UNHCR in Malta in 2014 on the same matter, and considering the EU 2012 pledge that all Member States would ratify the 1954 Convention, the island continues to drag its feet. It is time Maltese policy-makers paid more than lip service to its international commitments in order to bring the EU’s smallest Member State in line with the rest of Europe regarding statelessness.