New European Campaign Seeks Action on Ending Statelessness

Since its launch in June last year the European Network on Statelessness (ENS) has attracted 50 new member organisations in over 30 European countries. Encouraged by the diversity of its membership base and keen to build on recent momentum with regard to global efforts to tackle statelessness, ENS has just launched a year-long campaign seeking to improve protection for stateless persons in Europe.

A public statement launching the campaign is available here and is intended to be circulated as widely as possible to help spread awareness about the campaign and what we hope to achieve.

Previously, ENS blogs have reported on the impressive strides made with regard to ratification of the two UN Statelessness Conventions. At the regional level two striking features stand out. The first is the critical agenda for concerted action provided by the European Union in October 2012 when it pledged that all its member states not already having done so (that’s Estonia, Cyprus, Malta and Poland) would accede to the 1954 Statelessness Convention—the international instrument setting out obligations owing to stateless persons on a State Party’s territory.

The second is that despite this near universal ratification, relatively so few states have in place dedicated statelessness determination procedures which are a prerequisite for them to fulfil their obligations towards stateless persons in practice (those EU states with provisions in place are France, Hungary, Italy, Spain and the UK as well as outside the EU Georgia and Moldova).

What’s surprising is that this glaring gap between notional rights owing and the possibility of attaining them in reality has continued unquestioned for so long. Many European states signed up to help stateless persons decades ago but then simply did nothing—this for example in stark contrast to their response to having ratified the 1951 Refugee Convention, with regard to which almost all signatories have considered it de rigueur to adopt asylum procedures in order to be able to recognise and reward those deserving of sanctuary. The absence of an equivalent protection framework for stateless persons can have devastating consequences for those individuals stuck in limbo as a result.

Joint research conducted in 2011 by UNHCR and my organisation Asylum Aid found that previously stateless persons in the UK were left unidentified and at risk of human rights abuses. Many of the stateless persons we interviewed had been destitute for months, had been detained by immigration authorities in spite of evidence that showed there was no prospect of return, or had been separated for years from their families abroad. Some had been forced to sleep on the streets. Many had seen their accommodation and support repeatedly cancelled and reinstated.

Almost all of this group were prohibited from working. Few were in a position to break this cycle. UNHCR mapping studies in Belgium and the Netherlands revealed a similar picture with the absence of adequate protection mechanisms leaving stateless migrants stuck in an endless limbo without respect for their fundamental rights. UNHCR is currently undertaking mapping studies in the Nordic and Balltic states which will hopefully also shed much needed light on the situation in those countries. As such there is a growing body of evidence about the harsh reality facing stateless persons in Europe today.

As reported more fully in a previous blog, what has changed—in the UK at least—is the introduction of new immigration rules effective from April this year which now provide stateless persons with a regularisation route and a crucial lifeline out of limbo. This example now needs to be followed by other European countries.

Timed to coincide with the 60th anniversary of the 1954 Statelessness Convention, this pan-European campaign will bring together our members and other civil society organisations across Europe in calling for:

1) All European Union states to accede to the 1954 Statelessness Convention by the end 2014.

2) All European states without a functioning statelessness determination procedure to make a clear commitment during 2014 to take necessary steps to introduce one by the end 2016.

While not underestimating the ambitious nature of these objectives, we believe that we can make real progress towards achieving them through a combination of awareness-raising and advocacy activities at the national and European Union level. Central to this will be our efforts to put a human face on the statelessness issue by gathering individual stories and testimonies from across Europe. Equally important will be our ability to successfully engage broader popular support through online advocacy and use of social and other media.

Finally, the campaign will culminate with a concerted day of action against statelessness across Europe on 14 October 2014. We are asking our members and other interested organisations to plan ahead in order to mark that day with a special event or action – for example a public meeting, film screening, photo exhibition, umbrella march, public lecture or media briefing/press release. As well as providing an important focus point for the campaign, it will hopefully also demonstrate the value of implementing ENS’s existing call for the UN General Assembly to adopt an international day of action against statelessness.

Our campaign launch statement concludes that:

“With your support we can bring Europe’s legal ghosts out of the shadows and ensure that stateless persons are treated with the respect and dignity which has been lacking since the philosopher Hannah Arendt famously identified their plight in her seminal text The Origins of Totalitarianism back in 1951. The fact that there remain an estimated 600,000 stateless persons living in Europe today shows that action is long overdue. The time for action is now.”

Ultimately the success of this initiative will be dependent on the level of backing it receives from a broad spectrum of supporters. We hope that working together we can bring about real change. Please start by sharing details of the campaign as widely as possible.

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