UNHCR urges all countries to intensify efforts to end statelessness

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The United Nations Refugee Agency is urging all countries to intensify their efforts to end statelessness in the world. Wednesday marks the sixth anniversary of the ‘I Belong’ campaign, which promotes aiding stateless people to attain national identities.

More than 4 million people in 76 countries are believed to be living in limbo.

The UNHCR’s “I Belong” campaign has set 2024 as a target year in which to end statelessness in the world.

Discussion on UNHCR’s #iBelong Campaign to end Statelessness:

The issue comes with a myriad of problems as people who aren’t claimed by the countries in which they live, often fail to benefit from public services. Without a national identity, applying for what can be termed basic activities like primary school or accessing social grants can be difficult.

Emmanuelle Mitte, the agency’s senior statelessness officer, says this results in them being excluded from living a normal life, as legally they do not exist.

“In order to understand statelessness, you need to understand nationality that has been conceptualised as the right to have rights. Because he doesn’t have a nationality, he is deprived of a wide range of fundamental human rights. The rights to education, the right to documentation and therefore, the right to sign contracts and the right to have  formal work.”

Mitte says stateless is caused by several issues which include a nation being in war or conflict, forcing refugees to flee into another country which doesn’t recognise them.

It can be caused by discriminatory regimes who won’t recognise a certain grouping of persons for whatever reason or sometimes it is just badly-run administrations, which fail to register a child or an adult in the country’s national database.

In 2019, Southern Africa became the second region to make the highest number of pledges to ensure that everyone is afforded a national identity.

Mitte says SADC countries have recognised the detriment of statelessness and are addressing it.

“There are law reforms for closing the gap in key legislation that lead to statelessness. Strengthening birth registrations and therefore, ensuring that more children are registered at birth and, therefore, less children exposed to the risk of statelessness. Other states have made pledges to data collection and therefore, identifying who is stateless in their territories and therefore, identifying what are the main causes of statelessness so that they can take action to close those gaps.”

Mitte says the COVID-19 pandemic has also worsened the situation.

Impact of COVID-19 on stateless people:

Persons without legal documentation have struggled to obtain the much-needed social assistance grants because they are not recognised by the countries they live.

With the aid of local NGOs, the UNHCR has had to step in to deliver essential products and food to those who find themselves ghosted by the system.