Tuesday, 1 October 2013

UNHCR Statelessness Research Award interviews... Eva Mrekajová


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 Mrekajová, 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 Mrekajová, 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.

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