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.

No comments:

Post a Comment