Dear Commissioner Johansson,
I write to request a meeting, on behalf of the European Network on Statelessness and our over 170 civil society members across 41 European countries, to discuss the implementation and application of the Temporary Protection Directive to stateless people and those at risk of statelessness fleeing Ukraine.
We welcome the EU’s decision to implement the Temporary Protection Directive in response to the crisis in Ukraine. The strength of solidarity shown across the Union - in particular in neighbouring countries - towards the people of Ukraine at this time of crisis is to be celebrated.
Nevertheless, as more information emerges from what is a fast-moving situation on the ground, we ask you to urge all EU Member States to take an inclusive approach, grounded in international law principles, to extending temporary protection to all those who are stateless or at risk of statelessness fleeing Ukraine.
Estimates of the size of Ukraine’s stateless population vary significantly but are in the many tens of thousands. We know that most people affected by statelessness residing in Ukraine are stateless ‘in their own country’, meaning that they were either born in Ukraine or are long-term residents there and do not have ties with another country. The World Bank recently estimated that almost a million Ukrainians are without a national identity card and proof of citizenship. Not all are stateless, but all will struggle to prove their links to Ukraine as currently required to access temporary protection in the EU.
The latest information from our members suggests that stateless people and those at risk of statelessness fleeing Ukraine are facing significant barriers to protection due to their lack of nationality, documentation, or residence status. Most European countries have not extended temporary protection (or other protection schemes for Ukrainian refugees) to stateless people. If able to flee, stateless people and those at risk of statelessness face being stuck in limbo in the EU with options limited to applying for asylum, humanitarian protection, or statelessness status (if available). Such procedures are lengthy, subject to stringent evidentiary requirements that are difficult for stateless people to meet, and do not provide immediate protection. Applying for these procedures may also prevent onward movement and/or return to Ukraine. The Temporary Protection Directive was introduced precisely to avoid people fleeing the war in Ukraine having to resort to such burdensome procedures and to facilitate return once it is safe to do so.
As a living and flexible instrument, the Commission Operational Guidelines for the implementation of the Temporary Protection Directive provide an opportunity to highlight the issue of statelessness in the Ukraine context and urge Member States to extend temporary protection to stateless persons and persons at risk of statelessness who, by definition, have no other country to turn to. The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU prohibits discrimination based on nationality and the 2015 Council Conclusions on Statelessness highlight the importance of strengthening protection for stateless persons to facilitate access to fundamental rights and reduce the risk of discrimination. Now is a critical moment for the European Union and its Member States to put into action their international and regional commitments to protecting the rights of stateless persons and preventing and reducing statelessness.
We are calling for the European Commission to amend the Operational Guidelines, and would like to meet with you to discuss how these can be strengthened to:
- Clarify Member States’ international obligations to protect the rights of stateless persons on their territory and to prevent and reduce statelessness.
- Encourage Member States to ‘use their margin of appreciation in the most humanitarian way’ to extend temporary protection to all stateless persons fleeing Ukraine who, by definition, have no other country to turn to.
- Introduce flexibility in the requirement to prove prior residence in Ukraine through documentary evidence, recognising the inherent difficulty in proving statelessness, and the documentation challenges faced by stateless persons.
- Remind Member States of their duties to guarantee every child’s right to birth registration, legal identity, and a nationality to prevent future cases of statelessness arising as a consequence of the conflict.
Further details and recommendations, including for European governments, are set out in our briefings on statelessness and the Ukraine crisis response, which can be found here: https://www.statelessness.eu/statelessness-ukraine-crisis
The Commission Operational Guidelines provide an invaluable opportunity to build on the raison d’être of the Council Decision to implement the Temporary Protection Directive and, through these amendments, seek to extend temporary protection to all stateless persons and persons at risk of statelessness fleeing Ukraine.
I thank you in advance for your consideration and look forward to hearing from you.
Director, European Network on Statelessness
You can find other resources on our Statelessness and the Ukraine crisis response page.