Monday, 16 December 2013

GUEST POST: The issue of statelessness in Europe put forward at a Regional Session of the European Youth Parliament in Sweden

The 3rd Eastern Regional Session of the European Youth Parliament Sweden (EYP Sweden) took place in Stockholm on 22- 24 of November 2013.

This year EYP Sweden was organising a round of Regional Sessions across Sweden. One of them was the 3rd Eastern Regional Session that I had the honour to preside. This session stood out among the others first and foremost due to its theme: “The Right to Human Rights”. The situation of Syrian Refugees, LGBTI rights, gender violence, human trafficking in the EU and other topics were discussed during the session. Moreover, it was the first time when the topic of statelessness was put forward for discussions at an EYP event. In particular, the Committee on civil liberties, justice, and home affairs I (LIBE I) were confronted with the following question: “There is a nearly universal ratification by EU Member States of the 1954 Statelessness Convention relating to the status of stateless persons (Estonia, Cyprus, Malta and Poland are yet to sign it). Despite this, there remain an estimated 700,000 stateless persons living in Europe today. Only a handful of European States have functioning statelessness determination procedures in place, thus implementing their obligations. What steps should the EU take to improve the protection of stateless persons in Europe?”

The LIBE I Committee has suggested the following responses to the question above. The Committee emphasised the importance of raising awareness about statelessness in Europe through, among others, informative courses on statelessness as part of school programmes (for example, social science and history classes in educational curricula offered to high school students within EU Member States) and through the implementation of awareness campaigns via the use of social media and public debating. The Committee members also supported the establishment of NGOs with a specific focus on statelessness through the provision of respective financial and human resources on behalf of the EU.

Furthermore, Swedish youth called for a detailed analysis of the existing statelessness determination procedures with the aim of identifying the best practices and the potential of their further application in other EU Member States. Another issue discussed, but not mentioned in the Resolution was the issue of questioning the existing Conventions on statelessness, as well as the European Convention on Nationality. Committee members even discussed the idea of adopting a new European Convention that would solely focus on statelessness in Europe.

As a Member of the EYP and a PhD student with a focus on statelessness, I am very pleased with the outcome of the session, in particular with the fact that the issue of statelessness in Europe was raised, especially taking into consideration the launch of a pan-European campaign by the European Network on Statelessness to improve the protection of stateless persons in Europe in October this year. Hopefully, the topic of statelessness will be included into the agenda of more events of the European Youth Parliament in the future.

To see the full Resolution Booklet, please click here

Valeriia Cherednichenko, PhD Researcher in Advanced Studies in Human Rights at Charles III University of Madrid, Spain

European Youth Parliament is a non-partisan and independent educational project which is tailored specifically to the needs of the young European citizen. Today the EYP is one of the largest European platforms for political debate, intercultural encounters, political educational work and the exchange of ideas among young people in Europe. The EYP consists of a network of more than 35 European associations and organisations in which thousands of young people are active in a voluntary capacity. The entire network organises about 200 events every year. The EYP is a programme of the Schwarzkopf Foundation (please follow the link for more information ).

Friday, 13 December 2013

Stateless people in the Netherlands deserve better

To hold no nationality at all, have no passport and enjoy no right to vote anywhere: that is something special. But not unheard of. Worldwide, over 10 million people are stateless and there are also cases here in the Netherlands. For more than fifty years, the Netherlands has also recognised statelessness as something special and stateless people as having special needs. The UN Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons (from 1954) entered into force for the Netherlands in 1962 and this instrument sets out the rights to be enjoyed by stateless people. But just last week, an important Dutch advisory body concluded that “there is no proper instrument to establish statelessness in the Netherlands, which means that often cases of statelessness are left undetermined”. According to the Netherlands Advisory Committee on Migration Affairs (Advisory Committee), this must change because statelessness is something special. Their report, “No country of one’s own” contains a number of concrete recommendations that warrant our attention.

There are different ways in which a person can end up stateless. My first encounter with statelessness was with the little Omar (pseudonym). Omar was a healthy baby with two loving parents. But he faced one considerable disadvantage, right from the start: he had no nationality. He could not acquire his mother’s nationality because she was from a country where women do not enjoy an independent right to pass nationality to their children (still a problem in more than 25 countries around the world today). Nor could he get his father’s Dutch (!) nationality, because his parents were not married. His father needed to recognize his paternal link with Omar before the birth in order to automatically confer his nationality – but he didn’t know that.

Omar is not alone. Of the 2005 people who are registered as stateless in the Dutch Municipal Basic Administration (GBA) a surprising 1400 were actually born here in the Netherlands. While the nationality of these individuals is often not a purely Dutch issue, we are still forced to conclude that the Netherlands is contributing to the creation of statelessness. The Netherlands has a safeguard in its nationality law according to which children like Omar can opt for Dutch nationality after three years. However, in practice, the Advisory Committee has pointed out a number of problems in the implementation of this policy. A particularly troublesome issue is the condition that Dutch law stipulates for the exercise of this right of option, namely that the child is lawfully resident – a requirement that is, quite simple, in violation of the Netherlands’ international obligations (1961 UN Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness). Thanks to this requirement, many children are unable to exercise their right to a nationality. There are currently 85 stateless children registered in the GBA who were born here and are now four years old or more, but who cannot opt for Dutch nationality because they do not have a residence permit. The Netherlands is failing these children. This is why the Advisory Committee report urges to “drop the condition of lawful stay for the right of option for children born in the Netherlands”.

For many people, the first encounter with statelessness is through the story of Victor Navorski, the character played by Tom Hanks in “The Terminal”. As creatively demonstrated in this film, some stateless migrants find themselves stuck in limbo. In the film, limbo has a physical manifestation: Victor is trapped at the airport, he cannot leave through the exit doors because he has no permission to enter the country, but he also cannot board a plane to leave and go elsewhere because he does not have a valid passport. In the Netherlands, statelessness is also not a ground for a residence permit, but there is also no other country to which a stateless person can return. This can mean that a stateless person spends a long time trapped in immigration detention or is faced with the daily struggle of survival as an irregular migration in the Netherlands. This situation is not in anyone’s interest and requires a humane and practical solution. The Advisory Committee has therefore recommended that the Netherlands establish a procedure for determining whether a person is stateless and the grant of residence on that basis.

The Advisory Committee’s report demonstrates very clearly how the Netherlands can make just a few small policy adjustments to bring real change to a small group of people. It will also help to generate more understanding for stateless people. As a stateless woman once explained in an interview to UNHCR: “When I tell people that I am stateless, what I see in their faces is shock, ignorance and mistrust. Each time you have to explain. It’s as if you have to prove your right to exist!” It is vital to fight against this ignorance. Statelessness is something special, but a stateless person is also a person.

This blog is an English translation of a similar piece that was published on the public comments page of Dutch newspaper Trouw on Thursday 12 December 2013.
Dr Laura van Waas, Senior Researcher and Manager, Statelessness Programme

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

ENS launches Good Practices Guide on Statelessness Determination and Protection to Mark International Human Rights Day

The European Network on Statelessness (ENS) celebrated International Human Rights Day yesterday, by launching its inaugural publication “Statelessness Determination and the Protection Status of Stateless Persons: a Summary Guide of Good Practices and Factors to Consider when Designing National Determination and Protection Mechanisms”. Stateless people are a particularly vulnerable group when it comes to the ability to exercise human rights, and determination procedures are key to their effective protection in a migratory context. This ENS guide serves as a tool for civil society advocates lobbying for and states considering the establishment of domestic statelessness determination procedures and protection mechanisms.
On this the 20th anniversary year of the establishment of the mandate of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, International Human Rights Day has been themed “20 Years: Working for Your Rights”, but with an emphasis on the future and challenges that lie ahead. The task of looking back over 20 years of endeavour and achievement in the human rights field and drawing on this foundation to plan for future challenges resonates strongly with statelessness as an issue, the development of ENS and its recently launched campaign to improve protection for stateless persons in Europe. The publication of the good practices guide is a key component of one of the campaign’s two primary objectives, namely that all European states take steps to introduce statelessness determination procedures.
Twenty years ago, statelessness was a well hidden and poorly understood issue. As the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) began to actively explore its statelessness mandate and as academics and NGOs began to grapple with the issue, our collective understanding of the extent of statelessness and its human impact evolved, enabling us to respond more effectively to the challenge of statelessness. Over these past 20 years, statelessness has ceased to be perceived purely as a complex legal anomaly and been re-characterised as fundamentally a human rights issue that must be addressed through both the human rights framework and international statelessness mechanisms. This joined up thinking as well as efforts to understand the impact of statelessness on related fields such as development, healthcare, economics, humanitarian aid and security (to name but a few) has the potential to greatly strengthen the statelessness movement, and to draw in new and important allies from other disciplines. The growth of expertise and interest in statelessness over the past two decades is well reflected in the ENS story, which germinated as an idea in 2010, evolved into an informal discussion between a few organisations in 2011 and today is a fully functional civil society network with over 50 member organisations in more than 30 European countries. 
The identification of stateless persons is an important process, necessary to ensure compliance both with the 1954 Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons and with international human rights law. The state obligation to not discriminate against stateless persons, for example, can only be fully complied with if states know who the stateless are among their populations. The failure to implement fair, accessible, non-discriminatory and non-arbitrary determination procedures that comply with substantive and procedural standards under international law would result in people not being appropriately identified as stateless and consequently being denied the human rights protection they are entitled to.
Twenty years ago, only two countries (France and Italy) had procedures in place to identify and protect the stateless. Today, there are twelve such states, with several others having made pledges in this regard. The ENS Guide looks at these twelve states, at UNHCR and expert guidance and at international law, to tease out good practices that states about to implement new procedures should consider adapting and replicating. Consequently, it is an exercise in the discipline of looking back in order to plan for the future – which goes to the very core of the theme of this year’s celebration.
Looking forward to the next few years of the human rights journey, ENS remains committed to addressing statelessness in Europe and globally. The identification of stateless persons is a crucial first step towards protection, and ENS hopes this Guide will contribute to the growing human rights movement to protect the stateless and end statelessness in the future.
 The ENS Good Practice Guide is available on the ENS website at  and a print copy can be requested by emailing ENS Coordinator Chris Nash at
[This blog originally appeared on 10 December 2013 on the website of the European Network on Statelessness,