Friday, 27 September 2013

UNHCR and Tilburg University announce winners of Statelessness Research Award

Today, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and Tilburg University on Friday named the inaugural winners of the UNHCR Award for Statelessness Research. The announcement coincides with the anniversary of the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons (tomorrow, 28 September).
The winners…
In the undergraduate category, the winner is Amanda Cheong, whose thesis "Changing Conceptions of Citizenship Among Stateless Chinese-Bruneian Immigrants in Vancouver," was nominated by the Department of Sociology at the University of British Columbia in Canada. Cheong selected one of the world’s least-known situations of statelessness as the subject of her research: the Chinese minority of the Sultanate of Brunei Darussalam. Cheong explores the implications of statelessness for peoples’ life chances in Brunei, looks at how international migration has been adopted as one response to this situation and how the exposure of those who have settled in Canada to a new and very different citizenship model has changed their understanding of the relationship between the individual and the state. She bases her analysis on oral history interviews with 13 Chinese-Bruneians who migrated to the Greater Vancouver area between 1974 and 2011. The Jury was impressed by this original data collection and the manner in which both the methodology and the findings are presented, concluding that this well-refined and informative sociological study provides a useful contribution to deepening the understanding of statelessness. The Jury further made an honourary mention of Ms. Sára Heinik’s undergraduate level work entitled The Elimination and Reduction of Statelessness in International Law-making and its Effectiveness. This thesis, submitted to Corvinus University of Budapest (Hungary) as part of an undergraduate programme on International Relations, provides a comprehensive and well-written overview of international law governing the problem of statelessness.
In the graduate category, the jury named two winners. The first is Eva Mrekajová, whose Master of Laws thesis on the "Naturalization of Stateless Persons" was nominated by the Department of International and European Law at Tilburg University. Mrekajová undertakes a highly methodical comparative study of the legal practice surrounding the naturalisation of stateless people in three European states. The second winner is Caroline McInerney, whose independent study paper entitled "Citizenship Laws of Madagascar: Future Challenges for a Developing Nation" was nominated by the University of Virginia School of Law in the United States. McInerney presents an extensive review of the content of the Malagasy nationality regulations and identifies how the law is serving to create and perpetuate cases of statelessness in the country. Both of these students identified highly original research questions and, in working to answer them, they demonstrated a thorough understanding of the issues at stake and a strong analytical ability, such that their work offers a tangible contribution to furthering the study of statelessness.

Eva receiving her Award certificate from UNHCR's Director of International Protection, Volker Turk

No prize in the doctoral category was awarded this year, but the Jury was greatly impressed and encouraged by the diversity, ingenuity and quality of the undergraduate and graduate-level nominations received and, in its report, expressed confidence that “a new generation of talented young scholars will choose to pursue further studies in this field and looks forward to reviewing the fruits of this labour in years to come”. The Jury also made an honorary mention of Lindsey Kingston’s doctoral thesis entitled Legal Invisibility: Statelessness and Issue (Non) Emergence, which earned Kingston her PhD in social science from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University (United States) in 2010. In it, Kingston sets out to uncover and explain why some issues make it onto the international agenda and others do not, using statelessness as a case study. The Jury considered the thesis to be worthy of a special mention because it has clearly demonstrated the value of statelessness as a case study within research that explores related themes (in this case, issue-emergence) and hopes that it will serve as a source of inspiration to other young researchers in this respect. The Jury also pointed out that the fundamental question it identifies and dares to pose with regards to the ‘non-emergence’ of statelessness is an extremely pertinent and timely one, using its report to encourage all those concerned with pushing statelessness up the international agenda to give due consideration to the concrete, practical and valuable recommendations that Kingston draws from her research.
Background to the award…
In early 2013, UNHCR and Tilburg University’s Statelessness Programme invited academic institutions to nominate excellent research at the undergraduate, graduate and doctoral levels in the field of statelessness for the newly established UNHCR Award for Statelessness Research. In this, its inaugural year, a total of 15 nominations were received, spread across the three award categories. The nominations were submitted by academic staff from 13 different universities, across eight countries. The research represented a variety of disciplines, including international law, political theory, sociology, international relations, social science and cultural psychology.
Following a detailed review by a committee within Tilburg Law School, a shortlist of eligible, top-quality research pieces was drawn up and forwarded to the International Expert Jury for their assessment. In accordance with the Award guidelines, the papers and dissertations were judged on the basis of four main criteria: 1) Contribution to increasing understanding of the nature and scope of the problem of statelessness, identifying stateless populations and understanding the reasons which have led to statelessness; 2) Timeliness and importance of selected topic; 3) Quality of research; and 4) Quality of writing.
In 2013, the Jury members who assessed the undergraduate and graduate level nominations were: Prof. Kohki Abe (Kanagawa University, Japan), Prof. Khadija Elmadmad (Rabat University, Morocco), Dr. Benyam Mezmur (University of the Western Cape, South Africa), Prof. Peter Spiro (Temple University, United States) and Prof. Carmen Tiburcio (Rio de Janeiro State University, Brazil). The Jury members who assessed the doctoral level research were: Prof. René de Groot (Maastricht University, the Netherlands), Dr. Sriprapha Petcharamesree (Mahidol University, Thailand) and Prof. Kim Rubenstein (Australian National University, Australia). The Jury was co-chaired by Mr Mark Manly (Senior Legal Coordinator Statelessness, UNHCR) and Dr Laura van Waas (Tilburg University’s Statelessness Programme) who reviewed all of the nominated work and jointly compiled the Jury report presented below, based on the assessments made by all of the aforementioned Jury members.
In early 2014, UNHCR and Tilburg University will put out a new joint call for nominations of students’ work which offers a clear contribution to increasing understanding of the nature and scope of the problem of statelessness, identifying stateless populations and understanding the reasons which have led to statelessness, in particular in regions or within disciplines where little research has been done. The 2014 UNHCR Award for Statelessness Research Nomination Guidelines will be made available via the website of the Statelessness Programme and of UNHCR.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

A week in Northern Italy discussing statelessness in MENA

To continue our engagement with research being conducted on citizenship and statelessness in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), between the 17th to 19th September, the Statelessness Programme hosted a panel at the Sesamo conference held at the University of Pavia, to a conference entitled  'Making citizenship. Practices of exclusion and inclusion, claims and subjectivity in the Middle East and Europe,'.  Sesamo is a society that focuses on the study of the MENA  region based in Italy and they hold an annual conference on the region.  Together with former visiting scholar, Jason Tucker, we took the opportunity of this event to discuss our work on the MENA region with other academics whose work had focused on similar issues. 

Our panel was called Statelessness in the Middle East; Contesting the Boundaries of Citizenship. It began with Benjamin Smuin , who is from the University of San Diego, who spoke about his paper entitled
Citizens Without States? Claiming Citizenship and Rights under the League of Nations Mandate System.  This then followed with a presentation by Thomas Mcgee from the University of Exeter - who we have previously worked with on research related to the Stateless Kurds for our MENA project - who gave his insights into the current situation of the stateless Kurds from Syria and their access to Syrian nationality.  In a loose temporal flow the panel ended with a discussion by our MENA researcher, Zahra Albarazi, and Jason Tucker who spoke about their paper entitled Citizenship as a political weapon - a mechanism for exclusion and inclusion in the region.   The paper examined how the shifts in the political discourse in the Middle East over the last few years have highlighted the use of citizenship as a political weapon - a mechanism for exclusion and inclusion. We argued that established perceptions of belonging to nation-states are currently being challenged, with the nation-state being re-defined through the contestation of the legal boundaries of citizenship. By focusing on citizenship as the legal link to a country, we explored with the audience the demands for citizenship by hundreds and thousands of stateless people throughout the region - those who are not considered a citizen by any state.  The discussion then looked at the recent policies of State manipulation in removing opposition voices from the political arena by both rendering nationals stateless and granting citizenship to stateless people to encourage support for threatened regimes.  We looked at the case studies of Bahrain, UAE, Syria and Kuwait to highlight these issues.  Why and how this exclusion has been created and how recent political shifts in the region have led to challenging the politicized power over defining citizenship was debated as the stateless provide an enlightening and in this conference unique analytical lens through which to view the concept of citizenship in the region. 

This was a good opportunity for two people from different fields, law and political science, to offer an interdisciplinary perspective on these very topical issues in the MENA region.  The conference also provided a great opportunity to hear about other research on citizenship being conducted in the area as well as to understand academic developments from a very wide variety of disciplines.