Tuesday, 22 October 2013

GUEST POST: Between Ballot Papers and Birth Certificates: Cambodia’s Vietnamese Minority still Looking for its Place in Society

Cambodia’s national parliamentary election in July 2013 saw much debate about the place of the country’s ethnic Vietnamese minority. Whilst the contemporary politicized discourse focuses primarily on who should have a right to vote, few address the underlying question of the social and legal status of this minority group in Cambodia. The ethnic Vietnamese in Cambodia is one of, if not the largest, minority group in the country. Despite this, the ethnic Vietnamese population in Cambodia remains understudied. Whilst many ethnic Vietnamese have Cambodian identification documents and have successfully integrated into society, others continue to live at the margins of society and face difficulties substantiating their legal status in Cambodia.

Any discussion about this group needs to start with a proper differentiation, as "The Vietnamese" in Cambodia are not comprised of one single group, but comprise multifaceted and diverse sub-groups of individuals. Such sub-groups include Cambodian citizens of Vietnamese origin; ethnic Vietnamese in mixed marriages with Khmer spouses; long-term residents of Cambodia (some of whom have resided in Cambodia during or before French colonial times); and more recent immigrants seeking economic opportunities.

One of the most vulnerable groups is Cambodia’s long-term ethnic Vietnamese minority. In an attempt to shed light into the circumstances of this specific group, a recent report – “A Boat Without Anchors” – assessed the legal status of a focal group from Kampong Chhnang province around the Tonle Sap Lake. The report explores the status of the focal group under the applicable Cambodian and Vietnamese nationality laws, examines available documentation among the group and considers how the national authorities of Cambodia and Vietnam view and treat the group under the operation of their respective laws.

Some communities belonging to this focal group have resided for many generations in Cambodia, and many individuals have acquired Cambodian citizenship under previous or current nationality laws. However, the minority group has frequently suffered under the often-times contentious bilateral relationship between Cambodia and Vietnam, and discrimination and exclusion  in Cambodia has complicated their integration into society. At its extreme, the group suffered under the genocidal campaign of the Khmer Rouge regime, aimed at exterminating the group from Cambodia.  For this, accused persons at the Khmer Rouge Tribunal have been charged with the crime of genocide against the Vietnamese. For survivors who resided in Cambodia for generations, survival resulted from their deportation to Vietnam in 1975. Upon their return during the 1980s, most were treated as “immigrants” or “foreign residents”. As a consequence, many have neither proof of Cambodian nor Vietnamese nationality. These persons may in fact be stateless.

Without citizenship and other documentation, the specific ethnic Vietnamese in this research do not have access to many basic economic, political, and social rights. They face an array of legal, political, economic and social disadvantages, including difficulty accessing employment, education, health care, legal protection, limited freedom of movement, and an inability to open a bank account or own land. Few development activities have taken place in these communities. Expanding much needed services, in particular in the education and health sectors, to cover these and other communities would contribute to integrating them into Cambodian society and upholding their basic rights.

Importantly, the report found that these Vietnamese communities, by and large, have no effective access to birth registration. According to Cambodian law, birth registration is not linked to nationality and is available to all children born on Cambodian territory.  The absence of birth registration documentation for children in the focal group communities creates barriers for obtaining other documents relevant to exercising future rights and entitlements such as admission to school and access to Cambodian nationality, in accordance with the Cambodian nationality law. In order to ensure that statelessness does not perpetuate through generations within the Vietnamese minority populations in Cambodia, there is a need to expand universal birth registration to the children of these communities. The commendable efforts undertaken in past years by the responsible entities under the Cambodian Ministry of Interior, often with support from UNICEF, should be continued and expanded, including awareness-raising among affected population and local authorities.

A careful balance needs to be struck, which respects the right of the Cambodia state to regulate immigration, and the rights of long-term residents in accordance with Cambodia’s national law and international human rights standards. To achieve this balance, authorities need to distinguish between individuals who have resided for many generations in Cambodia and more recent immigrants. Cambodian laws should apply equally to everybody – both mainstream Cambodians and members of the ethnic Vietnamese minority in Cambodia.  As rights and obligations go hand in hand, this can provide a more sustainable basis for integration.

Christoph Sperfeldt and Lyma Nguyen, authors of JRS Cambodia’s publication “A boat without anchors”



Friday, 18 October 2013

Raising Awareness on Statelessness: Schools Project

My name is Christina van Kuijck, I’m currently studying 3 masters (Human Rights Law, Criminal Law and War Studies) and started my internship at the Statelessness Programme in September 2013. The reason why I applied for it was because I previously follow the course “Nationality, Statelessness and Human Rights”. It had such a big impact on me, that I wanted to contribute to the world in this area.

I’m an intern now for 6 weeks and each week I’m more positive I made the right choice. Besides preparing the Global Forum on Statelessness, which will be held in September 2014 in the Hague, my tasks include raising awareness on statelessness. One of the projects I’ve been busy with is the School Project for primary and secondary schools. After preparing the materials on nationality and the link with statelessness, we had the opportunity to give a lecture on the 4th of October at the “Onze Lieve Vrouwe Lyceum” in Breda (the Netherlands) to children of the third grade (3 VWO, 14 year-olds). A researcher and another intern from the Statelessness Programme – Zahra and Sangita – accompanied me.

When I arrived there, I was very nervous. I have previously given private lessons to people between the age of 10 – 21, but never to an entire class of 30 persons. I was also a little bit afraid that the children would have difficulty following a whole class in English. I didn’t need to be afraid or nervous at all. The students were really enthusiastic and active in the lecture. When they absolutely didn’t know how to explain themselves in English, they would use Dutch.

We started the lecture by asking the students what nationality is. Though none of the students had another nationality than the Dutch one, some of them had relatives that do have another nationality. We explained them that nationality entails both identity and membership. By asking the students different questions with the nationalities they mentioned (for example Germany and Italy) they were able to understand what identity means. It was interesting to see what national stereotypes came out - one of the students stated, for instance,  that "Italian women are very bossy". Afterwards the students gave some examples of forms of membership – one of them raised the school as a kind of "club" that they are members of, showing that they were one step ahead of us since we wanted to ask them what their do's and don'ts  (rights and duties) were as members of the class and the school. The next question was: what if you have no nationality and what is the problem? The students immediately answered: you don't have any rights and any duties. This paved the way to move on to the next question: the explanation of statelessness.

Zahra took over from here: She showed a video of stateless persons and the students were very interested in what they saw. Zahra asked the students whether they knew how they acquired nationality, and all of them gave the correct answers: the land bond through birth or naturalisation, and the blood bond through relatives or marriage. I was also impressed at how the students intuitively suggested that a foundling should acquire nationality by one way or the other, for example by giving a foundling the nationality where he was born, or found, or the nationality of his (adoptive) parents. After explaining naturalisation, most of the students stated that they would want another nationality because it would be easier for them in the future to find jobs (and because according to them, the Netherlands is too cold and small for them). Zahra then arrived at the loss of nationality, by offeringdifferent real -life examples.

Sangita took over to explain the regulation of nationality in the Netherlands and talked about an article in the newspaper of a stateless person in their own country. The students were quite shocked that this also happens in their own country. Finally, Zahra showed the international regulations and explained two cases of statelessness – the Rohingya in Myanmar and Bidoon in Kuwait.  

The students showed a lot of concern towards the problem and understood everything correctly. The teacher, Jos van Schilt, was very enthusiastic and gave us some positive feedback and has offered to help with the materials and different exercises for the School Project.

It was a very positive experience for me, soon we will be able to teach upper secondary classes and compare the materials that we have used and the way students respond to the topic. Currently I’m working with Jos van Schilt on a paper about nationality and statelessness education as one of the responses to statelessness. I hope to raise awareness all over the world with the School Project, and finish the materials before the end of the year in three languages (English, Spanish and Dutch). I’m very happy with this internship, as it gives me an opportunity to explore the law in a different way, not only by receiving education, but also by giving it to others.

Christina van Kuijck – intern at the Statelessness Programme

Thursday, 17 October 2013

UNHCR Statelessness Research Award interviews... Amanda Cheong

In this series of blog posts, we will be asking the students honoured in this year's UNHCR Award for Statelessness Research about their experiences studying the phenomenon on statelessness and their research findings. Last in the series is Ms Amanda Cheong, whose B.A. Honours thesis entitled "Changing Conceptions of Citizenship Among Stateless Chinese-Bruneian Immigrants in Vancouver", written at the Department of Sociology at the University of British Columbia (Canada), was chosen by the Jury as the Best Research in the Undergraduate Category.

      1.       Could you summarise, in 2 or 3 sentences, what your research was about?
My project had two main goals:
     1)      To depict statelessness as an embodied, lived experience by providing a descriptive account of the material and emotional repercussions faced by stateless Chinese-Bruneians;
     2)      To demonstrate how Brunei’s and Canada’s citizenship policies differentially mediated the nature of stateless Chinese-Bruneian immigrants’ ideas of citizenship and their relationships to the state.

      2.       What first got you interested in the problem of statelessness?
It wasn’t until the springtime before the final year of my undergraduate degree when I discovered that my parents had grown up without citizenship in the country in which they were born.  They mentioned this fact offhandedly when we were shopping for snacks one evening in an Asian wholesale grocery store. I pressed them further and asked, “So if you didn’t have citizenship, what did your passport say under ‘nationality’?” My mother replied matter-of-factly, “Stateless.” This moment marked a paradigm shift in the way I understood citizenship, as I could no longer took for granted the assumption that everyone automatically legally belonged somewhere. Thus, my professional commitment to the issue of statelessness arose out of deeply personal origins.

      3.       Why did you choose this particular research topic?
Ever since I learned about my family’s stateless history, I became both surprised at how little research has been conducted on statelessness to date, and fascinated about its human, subjective dimensions. What is being stateless like on an everyday basis? How do stateless people make sense of ideas of national identity and belonging?

There had been no prior attempts to systematically document the lives of the stateless Chinese in Brunei. The struggles of this particular population have been so chronically ignored that many of my interview respondents themselves questioned why I decided to pick Chinese-Bruneians, out of all the different cases that exist.  So I decided to study this population to not only make an academic contribution to the body of literature on statelessness, but also to demonstrate that the worth of no individual—regardless of how marginalized, forgotten or invisible—should be discounted.

      4.       Could you briefly describe how you went about your research? E.g. did you base it on existing sources – and were they easy to find? Did you do fieldwork or interviews – and what was that like?
I conducted oral history interviews with formerly stateless Chinese-Bruneian immigrants living in the Greater Vancouver Area. It was a challenging but gratifying experience, and I hope that the respondents also got something out of sharing their lives and histories with me.

      5.       What was the greatest challenge you had to deal with in undertaking your research?
My biggest challenge was reconciling my multiple identities and biases as researcher, activist, and daughter of formerly stateless immigrants.

      6.       Could you briefly summarise your main findings or conclusions – or what you think is the most important outcome of your research?
I found that while Brunei’s racialized citizenship policies restricted its stateless population to a predominantly instrumental understanding of citizenship as related to material entitlements, Canada’s more inclusionary model fostered a greater orientation towards symbolic notions of freedom, democratic participation, and civic engagement.

In addition to initiating the research and documentation of this little-known population, I also shed light upon the importance of citizenship policies in influencing how individuals conceive of themselves as civic beings and contribute to the political life of a nation, and how such ideas have the potential to shift through the migration process.

      7.       Have you found it rewarding to research statelessness – why / why not?
Definitely, and I am determined to continue working in this newly emerging field. My goal as an aspiring sociologist is to give a human face to the global crisis of statelessness, and to use scholarly inquiry to effect change at both community and policy levels.

      8.       What tips would you give to students who are getting involved in statelessness research to help them? E.g. are there particular questions you think they should be looking at or methodological issues they should consider?
I don’t know if I have any tips to share, as I am still a student who is learning more about statelessness, and trying to equip myself with the theoretical and methodological tools to study populations who legally do not exist. One thing I would say is that it is important to remember that, at the end of the day, statelessness is a fundamentally human issue that affects the everyday lives of real individuals, and to approach your research with an open and compassionate mind.


I wish to acknowledge my mother and father, formerly stateless immigrants now living in Canada, who inspire me every single day with their strength and perseverance in the face of impossible adversity. 

Amanda's research interests concern collective action and rights claims among stateless peoples, as well as related issues of migration, race/ethnicity, and nation-building. In September 2012, she began a research and documentary film project with Voice of the Children (www.voc.org.my), a child rights legal advocacy organization in Malaysia. Through fieldwork in urban and rural contexts, she explored how racialized discourses surrounding Malaysian nationality contribute to the legal and social marginalization of undocumented and stateless children in Sabah. Amanda is now a PhD student in Sociology and Social Policy at Princeton University. She can be reached at archeong@princeton.edu.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Photo Competition: (my) nationality

This year is the 65th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Adopted on 10 December 1948, this document proclaims that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”. It elaborates rights for every individual in the world, whatever their nationality.

But nationality is still important: it gives a person a sense of belonging and plays an important part in enabling people to exercise rights. Just imagine what life would be like without a country, without a passport. For the more than 10 million stateless people around the world, despite the aspirations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, life is still very hard.

In order to raise awareness of the global problem of statelessness, the Statelessness Programme and Awake International are organising the photo competition “(my) nationality”. 

Inspire us with your view on nationality. For example: What does it mean, for you, to be a national of your country? What is special about your nationality? How would you feel if you lost your nationality? The challenge is to capture your view of nationality, or your experience of your own nationality, in a single picture: one photograph.

You can submit 1 picture by sending in your full name, your e-mail address, your age, a title for the photograph and a brief description of the image and the story behind it to photocontesthumanrightsday@gmail.com. There are no additional requirements for the format of the picture. The winner of the competition can choose between a Mediamarkt or Foregames voucher (30€ each), whereas the consolation price will be the not-chosen voucher. By sending in your picture you give automatically consent to post it on the Facebook and Blog of the Statelessness Programme

Important dates

The deadline for submissions is 5 December 2013. On the 10th of December the winner will be announced during the Human Rights Day seminar on statelessness (Dante Building, Room 1, Tilburg University, 3.00-5.00pm). Afterwards there will be an informal gathering with drinks in the Foyer of the same building.

Monday, 14 October 2013

A time for action - ENS launches campaign to protect stateless persons in Europe

As a founding member and active participant of the European Network on Statelessness, we at the Statelessness Programme are proud to be a part of the first Europe-wide civil society campaign for the protection of stateless people in Europe. Below is the blog by ENS coordinator Chris Nash, explaining the aims of this campaign [first posted on the website of ENS here].
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 today launches 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.
Previous ENS blogs have reported on the impressive strides made with regard to ratification of the two UN Statelessness Conventions – for an up to date progress report by UNHCR see here. 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.
ENS has chosen today, the anniversary of Hannah Arendt’s birthday, to launch a pan-European campaign seeking to improve the protection of stateless persons in Europe. Timed to coincide with the 60th anniversary of the 1954 Statelessness Convention, this 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.
For further information or to get involved visit www.statelessness.eu
or email ENS Coordinator Chris Nash at info@statelessness.eu

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

UNHCR Statelessness Research Award interviews... Lindsey Kingston

In this series of blog posts, we will be asking the students honoured in this year's UNHCR Award for Statelessness Research about their experiences studying the phenomenon on statelessness and their research findings. Third in the series is Dr Lindsey Kingston, whose 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, received a special mention from the jury.

     1.       Could you summarise, in 2 or 3 sentences, what your research was about?
Statelessness has serious human rights consequences, yet it receives little attention from the international community. My doctoral dissertation at Syracuse University used the problem of statelessness to better understand the process of issue emergence, or the step in the process of mobilization when a pre-existing grievance is transformed from a problem into a human rights issue.

     2.       What first got you interested in the problem of statelessness?
I first “discovered” the problem of statelessness on a research trip to Thailand in 2005. I was a graduate student at American University, and I had travelled to Thailand to learn about human trafficking. I soon realized that this issue was complicated by statelessness among various hill tribes, and that lack of legal nationality had serious consequences for minority groups.

     3.       Why did you choose this particular research topic?
After returning from Thailand, I had a very difficult time finding any information about statelessness – even from refugee agencies, which were often completely unaware of this problem. When I began my doctoral studies at Syracuse University, I started engaging with literature on social movements and transnational activism to better understand why such a terrible human rights issue wasn’t getting international attention. I found more questions than answers, so I decided to focus my dissertation research on the process of issue emergence within the human rights regime.

     4.       Could you briefly describe how you went about your research? E.g. did you base it on existing sources – and were they easy to find? Did you do fieldwork or interviews – and what was that like?
I conducted qualitative interviews with decision-makers at leading human rights and humanitarian non-governmental organizations (NGOs). I knew it would be difficult to gain access to my interview respondents, since they are incredibly busy people, and several professors warned me to have a “Plan B” in case I couldn’t collect the data. I was surprised (and gratified) to learn that these decision-makers were deeply interested in the questions I was asking, however, and we had some fascinating discussions. I was sure to share my research findings with all of my participants, and hopefully that information will help them in their own work.

     5.       What was the greatest challenge you had to deal with in undertaking your research?
My greatest challenge was that I was studying something that had not happened (at least, not yet): The issue emergence of statelessness on the international human rights agenda. Many of the NGO decision-makers I interviewed were not aware of the problem, or had not considered this issue within their organization. That forced me to broaden my interview protocol to focus on issue emergence in general, and then narrow that discussion to statelessness when possible.

     6.       Could you briefly summarise your main findings or conclusions – or what you think is the most important outcome of your research?
Interview data revealed four characteristic categories that play roles in issue emergence: strategic, environmental, issue, and organizational. Some of these characteristics figure prominently in existing literature, while others do not. Looking specifically at statelessness, the issue faces a number of key challenges for advocates – but it also enjoys a number of strengths that make mobilization possible. The most important outcome of this research is providing recommendations for future advocacy so that this critical issue receives the attention it deserves.

     7.       Have you found it rewarding to research statelessness – why / why not?
Certainly! It is exciting to see new attention to this issue, and I believe that researchers in this field have the ability to enact real change. Statelessness still hasn’t emerged in mainstream ways, but it’s getting there – and recent attention by the UNHCR and various NGOs is incredibly promising. The research community focused on statelessness is small but growing, and it’s composed of a dedicated and supportive group of people. I’m very grateful that these people are out there, and that they are willing to talk about this issue and brainstorm ways to advance this research agenda.

     8.       What tips would you give to students who are getting involved in statelessness research to help them? E.g. are there particular questions you think they should be looking at or methodological issues they should consider?
Clearly there’s still a real lack of solid data for understanding the scope of this problem and its impacts. Field work is vital, particularly so that we can draw direct links between lack of legal nationality and other human rights violations/threats.  

Monday, 7 October 2013

UNHCR Statelessness Research Award interviews... Caroline McInerney

In this series of blog posts, we will be asking the students honoured in this year's UNHCR Award for Statelessness Research about their experiences studying the phenomenon on statelessness and their research findings. Second in the series is Caroline McInerney, whose graduate level paper entitled "Citizenship Laws of Madagascar: Future Challenges for a Developing Nation", University of Virginia School of Law in the United States, won Joint Best Research in the Graduate Category. 

      1.      Could you summarise, in 2 or 3 sentences, what your research was about?
My research focused on the citizenship laws of Madagascar, examining the ways in which specific provisions of the Nationality Code as well as systemic issues in the administration of the laws have created a growing problem of statelessness and access to citizenship in the country. Specifically, my researched looked at the extent to which those who are Muslim or of Indian/Pakistani decent, referred to as Karana, are disproportionately affected by this problem of access to citizenship. I attempted to characterize the impact not having Malagasy citizenship has on the daily lives of these individuals and offer solutions for reforming the citizenship system.

      2.      What first got you interested in the problem of statelessness?
During my undergraduate studies I became involved with the migrant farmworker population in the United States, tutoring English to immigrants from Latin America on diary farms in New York State. Observing first-hand the way issues of citizenship impacted these individuals and forced them to live in the shadows motivated me to pursue a legal degree. I wanted to better understand the laws that dictated citizenship and nationality determinations as well as different countries’ approaches to these problems. Within the field of citizenship and nationality, the problem of statelessness raises particular concerns because not only do these individuals not have legal status in their country of residence, but also they are not legally citizens of any country.

      3.      Why did you choose this particular research topic?
Because of the political turmoil Madagascar has been in since 2008 and the continued efforts to hold elections, I thought it was a unique time to research issues of citizenship in Madagascar. There have been concerted efforts to try and hold elections to restore legitimacy to the government, but I was very curious to understand who among the people in Madagascar actually had the right to vote in these elections. There are many families who have lived in Madagascar for four or five generations that are not able to naturalize as Malagasy citizens and thus will never be a part of the participatory democracy the country is working to create. I wanted to understand what was the cause of the issue of statelessness in the country and what impact lack of access to Malagasy citizenship had on individuals in their daily lives.

      4.      Could you briefly describe how you went about your research? E.g. did you base it on existing sources – and were they easy to find? Did you do fieldwork or interviews – and what was that like?
Statelessness in Madagascar was relatively under researched. Some sources have identified the issue, but there was a lack of research concerning the scope of the problem or the root causes. My research was driven in large part by the fieldwork I did in Madagascar as well as sources I was able to find that provided some background history of the Karana and Muslim communities in the country. Madagascar’s Nationality Code is rather complex and one focus of mine was to understand to what extent the text of the Code was the cause of the problem verses the administration of the system. I did a thorough analysis of the language in the Code breaking down the different pathways to citizenship and identifying possible gaps in protection. I coupled this with interviews I had in country that explained how the Code was implemented in practice. Madagascar has ratified several international conventions that deal with issues of access to citizenship, gender rights, children’s rights, and discrimination. I examined whether the Nationality Code in its text and in its operation adheres to these standards. My fieldwork helped me gain a better perspective of what impact not having citizenship has on individuals’ daily lives. I also observed first-hand how the different communities, Malagasy, Karana, and Muslim, intersect in Malagasy society. A better understanding of the racial and ethnic divides in the country allowed me to identify what barriers existed to reforming the citizenship system and some potential avenues for change.

      5.      What was the greatest challenge you had to deal with in undertaking your research?
Individuals facing issues of citizenship or statelessness are often unwillingly to speak openly about the problem. Sometimes those most impacted are purposefully hidden in the shadows for their own safety. Those who I did speak with in Madagascar were occasionally cautious of speaking candidly about the situation because they did not want to be the instigator of unrest or start conflict between the Karana, Muslim, and Malagasy communities. Moreover, there is no existing institutional structure within the country that is working with stateless individuals or looking at the issues of access to citizenship. My approach was to focus on accessing the communities most impacted by these issues, speaking with leaders in the Muslim and Karana communities.

      6.      Could you briefly summarise your main findings or conclusions – or what you think is the most important outcome of your research?
Statelessness as well as access to Malagasy citizenship is a significant problem in Madagascar. Many foreigners who have been in the country for generations are still waiting to be naturalized. The Karana, who are estimated to contribute close to one-third of the country’s GDP, are disproportionately affected by this problem. While some of these individuals have been able to acquire citizenship of another country, precluding them from accessing Malagasy citizenship is a problem from a development perspective. These indivdiuals may be less likely to invest in the country if their legal status in Madagascar is uncertain. As the country develops having Malagasy citizenship will become more important for accessing social services and participating in the democratic life of the country. Continuing to marginalize a significant portion of the population in Madagascar could lead to civil unrest. The government has the opportunity now to peacefully reform the citizenship system and build a strong foundation for a vibrant participatory democracy in the future. There are deep racial tensions underlying the issue of statlessness and access to citizenship, but Madagascar can start by amending the Nationality Code to more closely align with the international conventions it has ratified. The country can also do more to address institutional barriers to accessing citizenship and work to promote integration of the Muslim and Karana communities.

      7.      Have you found it rewarding to research statelessness – why / why not?
Researching statelessness is very rewarding because it focuses on helping individuals who are deprived one of the most basic human rights, the right to be a citizen of a country. It also gives a voice to people who may not be able to speak out on their own behalf because they have well founded fears for what might happen if they draw attention to themselves, their communities, and their status.

      8.      What tips would you give to students who are getting involved in statelessness research to help them? E.g. are there particular questions you think they should be looking at or methodological issues they should consider?

I think it important to understand the cultural and historical factors that may be contributing to the problem of statelessness. Being able to spend time in the field is helpful in this regard. Even informal conversations that take place while doing fieldwork, that may not directly deal with the problem of statelessness, are helpful in framing the issue. Also, be cognisant of what role you play in the conversation. Often your own gender, race, and ethnicity can change the shape of the conversation. Be aware of this and consider mechanisms for overcoming this while in the field. 

Caroline McInerney will complete her J.D. degree at the University of Virginia School of Law (UVA) in May of 2014. She graduated with honors from Cornell University, School of Industrial and Labor Relations in 2011. As an undergraduate, McInerney worked with the immigrant farmworker population in upstate New York teaching English. Through field research she also developed a domestic fair trade proposal to improve migrant conditions. Her research has focused on the intersection of immigration and labor issues as well as refugee rights. McInerney’s honors thesis at Cornell explored the impact of extraterritorial border enforcement on refugees. Working at the United Nations International Labour Organization in Geneva, she contributed to a book titled Making Migration a Development Factor: The Case of North and West Africa and coauthored the working paper, Youth Employment in Crisis. At UVA McInerney volunteers with the Migrant Farmworker Project and the Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights Coalition. She is the Submissions Review Editor for the Virginia Journal of International Law. She spent the summer of 2012 working with asylum applicants at Sanctuary for Families in New York City. Most recently McInerney conducted fieldwork in Madagascar studying the issue of statelessness among the Muslim and Indo-Pakistani populations.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

UNHCR Statelessness Research Award interviews... Eva Mrekajov√°


In this series of blog posts, we will be asking the students honoured in this year's UNHCR Award for Statelessness Research about their experiences studying the phenomenon on statelessness and their research findings. First up is Eva Mrekajov√°, whose Master of Laws thesis on the "Naturalization of Stateless Persons", written at Tilburg University, won Joint Best Research in the Graduate Category.

1.     Could you summarise, in 2 or 3 sentences, what your research was about?

Firstly, I tried to identify international obligations of states relating to attribution of nationality via naturalization and to formulate international and European standards for facilitated access to citizenship for stateless persons. Secondly, in light of these standards, I was comparing national regimes of three states – Estonia, Hungary and Slovakia - and in particular, material and procedural aspects of naturalization. Finally, I briefly discussed the potential of facilitated naturalization as an effective measure against statelessness.

2.     What first got you interested in the problem of statelessness?

Statelessness was for me a totally new area when it firstly caught my attention. Tilburg University, where I completed my LL.M. programme, runs a Statelessness Research Programme and that is how I started to be interested in the issue. And because statelessness as a global phenomenon is still a relatively underresearched area, it poses many interesting questions which still are to be answered.

3.     Why did you choose this particular research topic?

I was looking for a topic which would be sufficiently narrowed down and at the same time new enough to allow me to contribute to the existing body of research. I found the concept of facilitated naturalization of stateless persons to be just this topic. Naturalization of stateless persons has the potential of being a durable solution for statelessness, but the duty of facilitated naturalization under international law is very soft, and there are no clear guidelines explaining what actually amounts to facilitated naturalization. States therefore need to be informed and become aware of possible difficulties the stateless persons may face to become more encouraged to facilitate the procedure. This was the goal of my research.

4.     Could you briefly describe how you went about your research? E.g. did you base it on existing sources – and were they easy to find? Did you do fieldwork or interviews – and what was that like?

First of all, is important to mention that there had never been done separate research on the issue, so I worked mainly with sources relating to statelessness and nationality law as such, as well as national legislation and international documents. Moreover, the second part of my research, the comparative study of the national regimes, was conducted also in cooperation with national experts in the form of interviews and consultations. I have to say that I highly appreciated their willigness to contribute to my research because it was particulalry this cooperation which helped me to fully understand the nationality law and practise relating to naturalization in all states, what was crucial for my research.

5.     What was the greatest challenge you had to deal with in undertaking your research?

The most challenging was to work out the approach to presenting the findings of the comparative part. I was looking for some visual way to do that. Finally, thanks to Vadim Poleshchuk, nationality expert from Estonia, I started to work with MIPEX 2010 Indicators, which I adjusted to be able to assess particular national regimes and to draft corresponding radar charts. I believe that this helped me to present my findings in a very clear and comprehensive way.

6.     Could you briefly summarise your main findings or conclusions – or what you think is the most important outcome of your research?

It is important to realize that the obligation to protect stateless persons and to reduce statelessness may be derived not only from international instruments dealing explicitly with this issue but indirectly also from human rights law. The right to nationality, together with the obligation to avoid statelessness and prohibition of arbitrary deprivation of citizenship consequently strengthen the obligation to facilitate access to citizenship. However, the practical application and enforcement of facilitated naturalization of stateless persons may be further influenced by political, historical and psychological aspects. Therefore, it is not always the most effective solution and other options should be considered depending on the source of statelessness and the context of a particular society. Nevertheless, I do think that facilitated naturalization could be one approach to reducing statelessness and it can be a good one, especially if applied as part of a complex policy of reduction of statelessness, in accordance with international standards.

7.     Have you found it rewarding to research statelessness – why / why not?

I enjoyed my research for two main reasons: due to the lack of other substantive research on the issue I had enough space to present my own assessments and conclusions, which was particularly rewarding, because I saw how much knowledge I gained about the issue since the beginning of my research. Secondly, I enjoyed very much the communication with all the experts I contacted and the cooperation with my thesis supervisor, which were both not only immensely helpful but also inspiring, considering their knowledge and experience.

8.     What tips would you give to students who are getting involved in statelessness research to help them? E.g. are there particular questions you think they should be looking at or methodological issues they should consider?

My general advice would be to find a topic you can relate to, especially if you are just delving into the problem of statelessness. That was why I decided to frame my research for European countries. In my opinion, it is simply not enough to just read the particular law, it is also important to fully understand the setting in which it operates, which in many cases means to understand fully also its political and historical background. Not considering these may leave the research findings flat and distorted.
Eva Mrekajov√°, originally from Slovakia, obtained the LLM International and European Public Law Degree with Human rights specialization from Tilburg University where she graduated cum laude in July 2012 as a recipient of Tilburg University Scholarship for Academic Excellence. In addition, she has a Master Degree in Law from Comenius University in Bratislava. Later, she completed a traineeship at the Research and Documentation Directorate at the Court of Justice of the European Union, where she subsequently stayed as an administrator for Slovak law for two more months. Currently she is interning at the Statelessness Unit of the Department of International Protection at the UNHCR HQ in Geneva. Besides she is working on various projects reflecting her main areas of interest, namely, the right to education, protection of minorities and different aspects of migration.