Monday, 29 April 2013

Introducing … Zhasmina Kostadinova, intern working on statelessness awareness raising

Zhasmina joined the Statelessness Programme in February 2013,as an intern for a 6-month project to develop new outreach tools on statelessness. In the interview below, she introduces herself and talks about what she has been learning and what she hopes to achieve thorough the internship.
Please start by telling us a bit about yourself.
My name is Zhasmina Kostadinova, I am from Bulgaria. I am a first-year student of Liberal Arts and Sciences in Tilburg University.
What made you interested in an internship at the Statelessness Programme?
My studies are organized in such a way that at the end of the first year I have to choose a major, i.e. in which field I will continue my work. I was searching for an activity with which I will guide my mind and make this decision. At that moment, I saw the free intern positions at the Statelessness Programme. I started reading about the issue, and as I found it to be the perfect combination of Law and Social Sciences, I applied for the programme.
In this way, in February 2013 I joined the Statelessness Programme as an intern to help with raising awareness on Statelessness. My internship project is 6 months long and until now I feel extremely thankful, for the opportunity to contribute to the Programme and to realize my dreams and plans.  One of the greatest benefits of working with the Statelessness Programme is doing real tasks, while participating in a professional international team. I am having the enormous pleasure to learn constantly by interaction.
As you are starting to learn more about statelessness, what do you find most interesting and why?
With my first day in the Statelessness Programme I was surprised to realize in what great detail Nationality is needed for every person. While preparing for my first steps with the team I was searching for information about Statelessness and Nationality, on the internet, which will broaden my knowledge of this topic. Unfortunately, I could not find one single web-site that could combine the issues of Nationality and Statelessness at one place, together with examples and theory.

Very important for the development of my understanding and knowledge of the topic of statelessness, were a lecture about Statelessness by Jason Tucker and conversations with Laura van Waas. During the lecture, Mr. Tucker drawn a simple circle with the typical rights and duties that we have together with our nationality, and then he started to cross out all the things that a statelessness person doesn’t possess. This, so simple picture, touched me at that very moment. I had thought that the information on the Internet was enough and provides basic knowledge, but I could not find such a strong and at the same time simple explanation of how statelessness affects people.

Moreover, during my training by Mrs. Van Waas, I learned about the nationality laws of different countries and how the way in which states regulate nationality can lead to statelessness. In the beginning I was deeply indignant of the discrimination of some Muslim countries, where a woman married to a foreign man, cannot pass her nationality to her children.

Can you tell us a bit about what you are working on as your internship project?
As an intern at the Statelessness Programme, I am creating a “duo” website about Nationality and Statelessness. I am working with Web-expression 4 and HTML 5 for the creation of a simple, but interactive and creative website. The aim is to make the awareness of the statelessness issue more accessible to people of all ages and especially, to catch the attention to the young people. 
Young people, who are still studying in schools, are a very important target because children learn quickly and make the change they want to see in other people. We believe that with more people informed about the problems faced by stateless people, this can make a difference over time.
Awareness leads people not only to sympathize the Stateless people, but to realize how much we have taken for granted the nationality that we have. People do not think about their nationality or when they need it for something and it is difficult to realize how important it is, actually. With simple examples, videos and an interactive design the website will combine the issues of Statelessness and Nationality with the idea of a better society, through better awareness.

What are your impressions of the Statelessness Programme so far and what do you hope to learn during the rest of your internship?
Until now I think that this internship is the most interesting challenge I have ever faced. I feel really happy and thankful to the whole team, which is very supportive, has a broad knowledge of the topic and is very creative. I hope the website will arise more awareness on statelessness and will change the attitudes of more people, which may help for the improving of the laws and better addressing the statelessness issue.

Zhasmina Kostadinova, Statelessness Programme intern

Friday, 26 April 2013

Introducing... Linda Peels, intern supporting the organisation of the First Global Forum on Statelessness

Ms Linda Peels, 22 years old, Dutch

Studying: International and European Law, Bachelor Programme

Internship Project: Organisational support for the “First Global Forum on Statelessness” in September 2014, co-hosted by UNHCR and the Statelessness Programme.

Last year I attended a pub lecture on statelessness, given by Laura van Waas. I had never heard of this topic before, but after Laura’s lecture I immediately wanted to learn more about this phenomenon, in particular how it could possibly happen that someone did not have a nationality. I was thrilled when I saw that The Statelessness Programme was looking for an intern.

My internship focusses mainly on the organisational part of the 2014 Global Forum. When I first started, I have to admit I was a bit in doubt whether I would actually learn a lot about the academic side of statelessness, since this is not the main focus of my internship. So alongside my internship,  I also enrolled for the course “Nationality, Statelessness and Human Rights”, created by the Statelessness Programme.

However, my doubt turned out to be for nothing: from my first day on, I had – and still have-  to write so many people and explain to them what statelessness is and why this conference is so important, that I was forced to look into the topic and the definition to deepen my knowledge. Many questions arose, differing from very practical, such as how many NGOs are actually working on statelessness – not that many by the way- , to very academic, for instance how we should interpret the definition of statelessness given in art 1 of the 1954 UN Convention Relating to The Status of Stateless Persons, or how safeguards should be implemented in nationality laws to prevent statelessness.

For these questions, the combination of studying the topic during class and working on the topic during my internship is perfect: I get to work with both the practical obstacles and questions as well as the academic side of statelessness, which really helps me to understand this complex phenomenon and to explain what it is in a way that non-academics will understand it too. I found the answers to my questions, not only in literature during class, but also by working on the topic during my internship.

To give you an idea of what organising of such an extraordinary event implies, I will elaborate a bit more on what I am currently working on. The idea is to hold a conference for both academics and policy makers. On this point, we are trying to map NGOs who are working on the topic, we are looking for academics as key note speakers and we are mapping governments that have done a lot to prevent statelessness, for instance Indonesia, who has changed their nationality law and built in more safeguards to prevent statelessness. We hope to attract some 300 academics, governments representatives, key UN staff, NGO’s or legal practitioners working on human rights, refugees and stateless people with various international backgrounds. We have to make sure we keep a balance between policy developers and academics, since the hoped outcome of the conference implies both encouraging new research on statelessness and the development of better nationality laws or other policies, for instance giving stateless people access to Micro Finance Intuitions – see Jason’s latest blog post.

The conference aims to raise the profile of statelessness by giving academics and governments representatives the opportunity to share their research, experiences and achievements in tackling the issue. We also hope to provide a podium for the stateless and to give them a voice.

Since I first started I have met such wonderful people who are always willing to answer my questions. I have already learned a lot about the topic of statelessness, the mandate of the UNHCR and the people working on statelessness, and I still have more than a year left full of learning and experiences!

Linda Peels, intern with the Statelessness Programme

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Stateless people and microfinance institutions

I recently had a conversation with Professor Thorsten Beck from the Department of Economics here at Tilburg. Our conversation lead to some interesting areas of how microfinance and its relatedness to statelessness. In this post I want to explore some of these, specifically how micro-finance schemes could be a means by which we can start addressing the lack of income security faced by many stateless people. While work is done on resolving statelessness through legal reform and naturalization we have to consider that protracted stateless situations require alternative strategies to overcome some of the hardships faced by many stateless people while their status is being resolved. This period of resolution can become significant with some people living their whole lives without a nationality. Restricted or no access to financial services, such as bank accounts or loans, has been noted as one of the major difficulties faced by the stateless. Microfinance institutions (MFIs) with their alternative banking, credit and insurance services can be, and have been, designed to overcome some of the barriers and obstacles that are shared by low income and disenfranchised groups (which includes some stateless).

MFIs are normally associated with the provision of financial services to low-income individuals as a means to allow them to lift themselves out of poverty. Despite critique such schemes have received growing interest over the last several decades and have been shown as one path to making financial markets work better for the poor. How alternative financial services could facilitate access for impoverished stateless persons and communities has however received little attention. I will draw on three areas where MFIs and related initiatives have been used to assist the poor with issues that also affect the stateless.

Firstly, the lack of any form of ID is a barrier to basic financial services such as opening bank accounts, transferring money, and accessing credit and insurance. The Credit Reference Bureau of Uganda found that, as no national ID was provided by the government, those who did not hold drivers licenses, passports or land deeds etc. found access to financial services problematic. With those holding ID not seen as the poorest members of the country as their lack of ID reflected their lack of resources (land, property, ability to earn an income through driving etc), alternative bio-data and unique numerical ID solutions were found. Other methods such as basing schemes on community cooperation and trust have also proven useful and could be implemented for both concentrated stateless populations and those who are dispersed, but embedded within the local community.  Such schemes would avoid the need to formally register the stateless receiving financial benefits, which is complicated, expensive and/or requires political will/cooperation. 

Secondly, phone banking has proved popular and successful in Kenya as a means to facilitate easy, affordable and accessible financial services. For stateless populations this could mean the easy transfer of money between dispersed families and communities, remittance facilitation, and transfer of funds to difficult to reach populations (both physically and politically) from MFIs and non-governmental organizations. Without access to bank accounts and the problematic nature of transferring money without ID cards, phone banking could provide a solution.

Finally, the provision of financial services to the poor, or making these services more accessible, can be seen as an individualized response. By that I mean that MFIs can circumvent some of the political issues of providing financial services to stateless populations by basing their services on need alone. This could manifest itself by providing these services through international organisations rather than the local government. In situations where the government refuses these services to the stateless - as non-citizens - this could be one path to reducing the impact of protracted statelessness through a measure of income generating schemes. This makes it possible to give real content to the international commitment to address the fundamental protection needs of stateless people, while a solution to their situation is found (a process that can take decades , or generations).

Lack of any form of ID, lack of access to financial services and the at times politicised nature of government provision of financial services has been overcome for impoverished communities in countries around the world. This can, and should, be explored more closely with a view to extracting relevant good practices that can be extended to the stateless more broadly. This would not only allow the stateless to lift themselves out of poverty, but also begin to challenge the assumption that granting or restoring nationality to stateless populations would be a burden or drain on a state’s resources. While we still have to consider other barriers that will influence the success of MFIs for the stateless, such as contexts of deep seated socio-political discrimination, lack of freedom of movement and lack of economic rights such as property ownership or access to the formal labour market, we should not forget the appropriateness of MFIs for the stateless. Economic empowerment could also potentially open new doors to more comprehensive solutions to statelessness by increasing the integration and participation of affected individuals and groups within the wider community. While not wishing to devalue the call for the stateless to be granted citizenship, we also have to consider that the poverty caused by the protracted situations of statelessness has to be tackled. MFIs have proven adaptable to overcome many of the barriers faced by the stateless for other disenfranchised groups. The discourse of MFIs should include the stateless as the short, medium and long term development of income sustainability for impoverished stateless groups is as important as finding a solution to their statelessness.  

The Stateless Programme is going to dig into some of these questions a little further and we would love to hear from microfinance experts who have information or insights to share.

Jason Tucker, Visiting Scholar, Statelessness Programme

Thursday, 11 April 2013

GUEST POST: Stories of Statelessness - Burma, the Dominican Republic and Kenya

What would you do if you were a citizen of no country? If the place you were born disavowed your tie there? For the 12 million people who are stateless worldwide, this struggle for a homeland and all the rights that being a citizen somewhere entails, is all too real. Stateless people are not quite refugees; they may have lived in a country for generations, but they are denied citizenship and rights by governments who insist they belong somewhere else. Yet this global crisis is under-reported in mainstream outlets. For photographer Greg Constantine, statelessness "is one of the most complex, politically sensitive and devastating human rights issues most people don’t know about.”

In the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting iBook In Search of Home, Constantine and reporter Stephanie Hanes teamed up to try to shed light on a global phenomenon. They examined statelessness in Kenya, Burma and the Dominican Republic, mixing interactive maps, photography and reporting to create an immersive experience.

One story they tell in the iBook is from the Dominican Republic, where Haitian immigrants have forged a home working in the DR’s now-collapsed sugar industry.  The work can be dangerous (sugar cane is so sharp, it can cut through human skin) with meager pay. For three generations, these workers have raised families in the Dominican Republic, but even their children who are Dominican-born with identities more Dominican than Haitian, are denied full citizenship.  

In the Dominican Republic, to be born on the nation’s land (jus soli or “right of soil”) is not enough for citizenship – you must be jus sanguinis or “right of blood.” The country’s law, Circular 17, enacted in 2007 and based on jus sanguinis, obfuscates the stateless sugar workers’ ability to get an education and a job. Even a name is an indication of “otherness.” Constantine and Hanes interviewed one woman, Jean Joseph, a bright student of Haitian descent with a Dominican birth certificate, who cannot go to law school because the Dominican government will not issue her the necessary documents due to her “funny” last name. 

Because of the complex realities of statelessness, Bangkok-based Constantine felt strongly about the need to extend past the limits of traditional journalism. “Because I believe so much in the importance of the stories I work on, I refuse to accept the limitations of traditional publishing these days, which is why we have to explore as many creative and strategic ways for getting the work out there as possible. I think the possibilities to tell robust, multi-dimensional stories through e-books are endless.”

Hanes agrees: "The e-book format allows for far more nuance and background information than a traditional print piece. There is an ability to truly incorporate photos, maps, and historical information. Overall, it allows for an excitingly textured new way of story-telling.”

The resulting iBook is a work that uses design to inform and raise awareness about statelessness, where the stories of aspiring Haitian-Dominican baseball players are seamlessly woven with photographs of children playing in abandoned sugar cane fields. Subsequently, the lives of women like Jean Joseph come alive through a tapestry of words and photographs in a project that was recently named one of the best Tablet/Mobile Delivery projects of the year by the National Press Photographers Association.

The iBook is part of a larger effort at the Pulitzer Center to increase media literacy and awareness of global issues, while creating new income streams for independent journalists who cover these crucial stories. In Search of Home is available for purchase in the iTunes store.

By Caroline D’Angelo and Jennifer Nguyen for the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting


About the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting:  The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting supports in-depth coverage of international affairs, focusing on topics that have been under-reported or not reported at all. Its honors include an Emmy for new approaches to news and documentaries and awards from the National Press Foundation, the National Press Club, and the Society of Professional Journalists. The Center’s education programs engage directly with high school and university students, building a constituency among younger audiences for quality global news coverage. To learn more, please visit

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

GUEST POST: Childhood in the Migrant City

What are the implications of statelessness for children’s everyday lives? Does the experience of statelessness differ qualitatively from that of ‘illegality’? How do children of migrants and refugees come to terms with the implications of their ‘foreign’ status as they grow up in a country largely hostile to their presence?

These are the some of the questions that I am currently exploring through fieldwork with children in the Malaysian state of Sabah, northeast Borneo. During the 1970s and 80s, thousands of Filipinos arrived in Sabah as refugees from the civil war in the southern Philippines. Later, many more Filipinos came to the state as economic migrants. At the same time, thousands of Indonesians have arrived to work on plantations, in factories or in domestic service, often following old networks of connectivity between Borneo and Sulawesi. Many of these foreign workers and refugees have married and had children in Sabah. However, a combination of different factors (including parents’ undocumented status and uncertainties regarding processes of registration) means that many of these children are stateless.

I arrived in Malaysia in August 2012 and will be here until August 2013 conducting fieldwork with the children of Indonesian and Filipino migrants and refugees. Based in the city of Kota Kinabalu, my primary methodology is that of participant observation: talking to children (in Malay), observing as much as possible of their lives, meeting their families and friends. Each week, I visit a number of different learning centres that provide education to the children of Indonesian and Filipino migrants. Through these learning centres I have got to know a wide range of children with very different experiences of illegality, exclusion and belonging, and with quite varied connections to their parents’ home country. I have discovered that families often have mixed statuses, for example, with some siblings having Malaysian citizenship (often through complex processes of ‘adoption’) and others being stateless, or with mothers sacrificing their own legal status in order to prioritise paying for their children’s documents.

Of course, uncovering children’s own perspectives on illegality and citizenship is by no means straightforward. I am currently working with children aged 8 to 18 and hope that working with this range of ages will allow me to track the gradual emergence of understanding amongst children about their situation. In addition to the conventional anthropological techniques of participant observation, I am also employing a range of different methods designed to engage children and to utilise their strengths. These include drawings, worksheets (for example, asking children to compare Sabah and their parents’ home country) and simple questionnaires. These methods have to be continually adjusted for different levels of literacy, and, as far as possible, I always try to discuss children’s individual answers with them. I have held brainstorming sessions with groups of children where each child is given different-coloured ‘Post-It’ notes to write down or draw what, for example, they are worried about. Recently, because of some difficulties in gaining access to urban children’s lives away from school, I have been lending children digital cameras and asking them to take photographs of what is important to them. After giving them copies of the photos they take, I also ask them to comment, in written or verbal form, on why they chose that picture. One girl photographed the welding workshop where her father works and where her family lives in a small, makeshift house. Next to this she wrote, ‘I don’t have any friends where I live’. Another photographed herself on top of a pile of rubble in the quarry where she lives and wrote, ‘I think this quarry is quite a beautiful view, don’t you?’

Not only are learning centres excellent venues for meeting and talking with children, education itself is a key concern of my research. Although Malaysia is a state party to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, it maintains a reservation on Article 28, the obligation to make primary education compulsory and available to all. Since 2002, ‘foreign’ and undocumented children have had virtually no access to public education. In my fieldwork so far, I have talked to many young people who remember when their education was cut short and they were asked to leave Malaysian government schools. I have also researched parents’ strategies for finding schooling for their children, have visited the different learning centres available to undocumented and stateless children in the city, and have spoken with children who have stopped or never been to school. Given the broader exclusions of statelessness, I am hoping to be able to write about both the possibilities for education to offer a route to personal ‘freedom’, and the constraints on the life-enhancing potential of education in the migrant city of Kota Kinabalu.

However, whilst researching the exclusions and problems that children face, I am also keen to counter the assumption, found in some advocacy work, that stateless or undocumented children are somehow ‘lost’, or lacking an identity. Although many children speak about the boredom of immobility, of being confined to the home because they cannot travel freely, they also have strong family ties and a strong sense of their family’s cultural background. When I gave out ‘holiday diaries’ to a group of Indonesian children, I was struck by how many of them wrote about food-filled visits to a wide range of extended family members in Sabah. Attending Filipino weddings, I have seen Suluk children competently and confidently performing traditional dances to large audiences. Other children record these dances on mobile phones and play them back at later occasions, discussing the merits of different dancers. I have also been reminded of the contingencies of national identity by an 11 year-old boy who, when asked what ethnic group he was from, looked fiercely at me and exclaimed, “I am a person from here!”

Work – particularly that of parents – is a key, emerging theme of my research. Many parents work very long hours, often every day of the week, and children become used to taking care of younger siblings, or to helping parents at their workplace. In my final months of fieldwork, I plan to focus my attention on children’s own work. I will be looking at three main groups, assessing the importance of work, and the relative impact of statelessness or illegality on work experiences and choices. These are: those teenagers who have finished school and are working full-time, those children who combine part-time work with schooling, and those who are working and have had no or little schooling. Such places of work include coffee shops, factories, car washes, and furniture workshops, and promise to yield further insights into the everyday lives of children growing up in a migrant city.
Catherine Allerton, Lecturer in Anthropology at the London School of Economics
[Catherine can be reached at]
 “This is my old house. I don’t have any friends where I live.” (13 year-old Indonesian girl)

A Suluk/ Tausug girl’s photo of the Filipino squatter settlement where she lives.