Monday, 15 December 2014

The World's Stateless - A new report on why size does and doesn't matter

Today, the Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion launched its inaugural World’s Stateless report. The report focuses largely on the question of statistical reporting on statelessness, with a hope to contribute to a better sense of the task of ending statelessness by 2014: knowing who and where the stateless are and how many people are afflicted by statelessness in the world today can help to inform the campaign to end statelessness. Below, is a summary of the report’s key findings.

The challenge of mapping statelessness
Quantifying statelessness is our shared responsibility. States hold the primary duty to identify stateless persons in order to implement their international obligations towards these populations –under the two UN statelessness conventions and in accordance with international human rights law. In the fulfilment of its statelessness mandate, UNHCR has been tasked to undertake and share research on various aspects of statelessness, including on the scope of the problem. Other UN agencies, NGOs and academia also have a role to play in the identification and quantification of situations of statelessness. Quantifying statelessness is a complicated task, requiring several methodological hurdles to be overcome:
Definitional issues: The definition of statelessness is not as straightforward as it appears to be. The term “not considered as a national… under the operation of its law” has been authoritatively interpreted as being both a question of fact and law. Consequently, there are persons who would legally be eligible for a particular nationality, who are nonetheless not considered as nationals by the state, and whose statelessness is consequently hidden.
Gaps in data collection tools: States may give insufficient priority to the implementation of measures to identify statelessness or accurately quantify it. Sometimes, there is even a deliberate strategy to deny the prevalence of statelessness.
Lack of adequate or comprehensive data collection: Even where data on statelessness is collected, this does not always yield comprehensive or reliable results, due to a wrong interpretation of the definition or poor methodology. Furthermore, some such exercises have been limited in their scope, focusing only on one ethnic group or geographical area of a country.
Unwillingness or lack of awareness to self-identify as stateless: Many stateless persons do not see themselves as being stateless. Even if they do, there is often reluctance to draw attention to this. Thus, data collection which relies on self-identification may not be entirely accurate.
Protection considerations in the identification of statelessness: Undocumented persons and those who are of undetermined nationality may be at risk of statelessness and indeed, some of them are likely to already be stateless. However, when such persons are in their own countries, they will almost always receive greater protection if confirmed to be nationals and the ‘stateless’ label can be counter-productive. Nevertheless, even in such situations, where the denial of documentation is long-lasting (even inter-generational), there would come a point when it is better to acknowledge such persons as stateless.
From a practical perspective too, there are various gaps in the existing data on statelessness:
Not all countries in the world are able to report data on statelessness: Today, UNHCR has reliable data on the number of stateless persons in 75 countries. This means that statelessness remains unmapped in over 50% of the world’s states.
Figures for different countries are compiled from different data sets – that use different methodologies – and do not always reveal the full picture: The data collated by UNHCR is drawn from information produced by different actors, in different places, using different approaches – not all of which deliver the same level of reliability or produce readily-comparable data.
Only persons exclusively under UNHCR’s statelessness protection mandate are reported in its statelessness statistics: UNHCR’s statistical reporting on statelessness excludes stateless persons who also fall within the protection mandates of other UN Agencies, and those who also come under other UNHCR protection mandates (such as refugees, IDPs or asylum seekers).
Global statelessness statistics
UNHCR estimates that there are ‘over 10 million’ stateless persons in the world. Due to gaps in the collection of data by governments, the UN and civil society, a full breakdown of this figure is beyond reach. Statistical reporting by UNHCR currently covers only a total tally of some 3.5 million stateless persons. A closer look at the data shows that 97.6% of the number of stateless persons reported in UNHCR statistics globally can be found in just 20 countries, which each is home to a stateless population of over 10,000. Less than 84,000 stateless persons are spread across the remaining 55 countries for which a figure on statelessness is reported.
In absolute numbers, statelessness is documented as affecting far more people in Asia and the Pacific than in any other region of the world, with UNHCR reporting a total of 1,422,850 persons. In six countries the number of stateless persons is reported to be over 10,000 and a further nine are currently marked by an asterisk in UNHCR’s statistics – meaning that there is a significant stateless population, which has not been accurately quantified. It is also evident that statelessness is severely underreported in Asia and the Pacific. It is safe to conservatively project that the true number of stateless persons in Asia and the Pacific is more than double what UNHCR is currently able to account for in its statelessness statistics. It may be far higher if there are widespread problems of statelessness in India, Indonesia, Nepal and Pakistan, as some of the available information suggests.
In contrast, the Americas currently reports the lowest number of stateless persons (at just over 200,000) and is indisputably the region with the fewest people affected by statelessness. This demonstrates the advantages of a jus soli approach to nationality (i.e. conferral of nationality at birth to all children born in the territory), the norm in the Americas, as this prevents statelessness being passed on to the next generation. Yet, the situation that has unfolded in the Dominican Republic over the past year is the most egregious new violation of international human rights norms relating to nationality and statelessness. Underreporting on the population affected in the Dominican Republic and the lack of reliable statistics on statelessness in other countries mean that statelessness affects far more persons in the Americas than currently be reported by UNHCR – how many more, is not known.
In (sub-Saharan) Africa, statelessness has been exceedingly difficult to accurately quantify. Only four out of 47 countries in this region were accounted for in UNHCR’s end-2013 statistics (currently totalling 721,303 stateless persons). Alternative data sources show widely varying estimates for countries not included in the statistics such as Madagascar and Zimbabwe. In other cases, there are no numbers at all, such as in the DRC and South Africa. It appears safe to conclude that, in Africa, statelessness is likely to actually affect more than double the number of persons currently accounted for in UNHCR’s statistics, and probably many more.
By comparison, statelessness is most comprehensively mapped in Europe. Statistical reporting on statelessness has been achieved in 40 out of 50 countries. The total figure reported by UNHCR is 670,828, some 85% of whom can be found in just four countries (Latvia, the Russian Federation, Estonia and Ukraine) – in all cases as a product of the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Although the phenomenon appears, at first sight, to be largely mapped, a closer look at the numbers gives reason to question whether this data is truly accurate and comprehensive. There is a problem of persons being reported as holding an ‘unknown nationality’, which is obscuring the true number affected by statelessness. It is however difficult to estimate how significantly current statistics undercount statelessness in Europe.
UNHCR reports a total of 444,237 stateless persons in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). This figure excludes stateless Palestinians. Furthermore, the absence of any data for three countries which are known to have significant statelessness problems, points to substantial under-reporting. Quantifying the problem is a big challenge because of the diversity of the groups affected and the underlying causes, as well as the high political sensitivity of questions of citizenship and demography in many countries. On the basis of what incomplete data there is, it is apparent that the UNHCR statistics for statelessness in the MENA significantly underrepresent the problem and (excluding stateless Palestinians and refugees such as the Rohingya) the lowest estimate for how many stateless persons are currently unreported is 100,000 persons.
While not all stateless persons are refugees and, indeed, not all refugees are stateless, there is some overlap between these two groups. A person can be both stateless and a refugee for the purposes of international law. However, stateless refugees are not included in UNHCR’s statelessness statistics. The world’s most significant stateless refugee populations include the Black Mauritanians, Faili Kurds, stateless Kurds from Syria and Rohingya refugees. A conservative tally of the total number of refugees affected by statelessness across these and the other groups suggests that there are currently at least 1.5 million stateless refugees and former refugees around the world. Many of these persons are counted within UNHCR’s refugee statistics (a significant exception being hundreds of thousands of Rohingya in the Middle East and some Asian countries).
Stateless persons of Palestinian origin are also largely excluded from present statistical reporting. While, from the point of view of international law, many Palestinians are likely to meet the definition of a stateless person, their situation is complex. Due to the mandate of UNRWA, established specifically to provide assistance to Palestine Refugees, Palestinians also enjoy different statuses and these do not align with the question of nationality status. Available data on Palestinians who fall under UNRWA mandate, Palestinians under UNHCR’s refugee mandate and Palestinians potentially under UNHCR’s statelessness protection mandate shows that there are more than five million Palestinians worldwide who are stateless under international law or whose nationality status is currently ambiguous. Upon clarification of Palestinian nationality law and who falls within its scope, this number would need to be carefully reviewed.
Our research confirms that the 3.5 million figure reported by UNHCR from collated global statistics on statelessness significantly underrepresents the scale of the problem. We found conservative estimates in other sources that would account for an additional approximately 2.5 million stateless persons. There are also approximately 2.1 million persons of Palestinian origin, who were never displaced from the West Bank or Gaza Strip and whose nationality status remains ambiguous. This brings the tally of stateless persons who are currently in some way statistically accounted for, to over eight million. The true number of stateless persons is likely to be significantly higher, due to the data gaps which were identified and could not be filled. Thus, it is clear that UNHCR’s estimate of ‘at least 10 million’ persons exclusively under its statelessness protection mandate is well founded. Furthermore, there are also at least 1.5 million stateless refugees and around 3.5 million stateless refugees from Palestine. When this is all tallied up, there are therefore likely to be more than 15 million stateless persons worldwide today.
In conclusion it must be stated that while the quest for clarity on the magnitude of statelessness is a fascinating, compelling and useful one, it is important to acknowledge that it should not be all-consuming. Having comprehensive and accurate information about who is affected by statelessness and where, is a means to an end, not an end in itself. Better data will undoubtedly help in the campaign to end statelessness by 2024, but the priority needs to rest firmly with addressing – not (just) mapping – the issue.
To read the full report, click here
Laura van Waas, Amal de Chickera and Zahra Albarazi, Co-Founders of the new Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion

[This blog also appeared on the website of the European Network on Statelessness,]

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Launch of ENS Campaign - None of Europe’s children should be stateless

He has your infectious smile and your partners bright, warm eyes. He shares your jovial nature and your partner’s ease in connecting with people and making them laugh.  He is intelligent, generous, kind – and a little mischievous. You swell with pride as you watch him play thoughtfully with his toy cars, his imagination transforming your living room floor into a world of adventure. You love him in a way that you find hard to put into words and that has caught you by surprise. Life without him is now unimaginable. Yet you still catch yourself wondering if you have done the right thing. Will he blame you when he is big enough to understand? Will he forgive you? Can you forgive yourself? Every day you worry about his future. Will he be able to finish school? What happens if he’s ever seriously ill? What if his ambition is to be a lawyer or an engineer or a politician? What if he wants a family of his own? The anxiety forms a hard lump in the pit of your stomach and sometimes you have to stop watching his carefree playing because the worry rises to the surface and threatens to consume you. Your beautiful boy is just like every other kid, except for one thing. He has no nationality. He didn't ask to be different and try as you might, you and your partner were powerless to do anything. Your son will grow up stateless.

It seems an unlikely scenario and one that must surely only play out a long way away in a somehow less ‘civilised’ part of the world… but in this region too, statelessness continues to arise because European states are failing to ensure that all children born within Europe’s borders or to European citizen parents acquire a nationality. Childhood statelessness stands at odds with the right of every child to a nationality, as laid down in the Convention on the Rights of the Child – adopted 25-years ago today, on Universal Children’s Day. ENS is taking the occasion of this anniversary to launch its new region-wide campaign ‘None of Europe’s Children should be Stateless’. This campaign will raise awareness and promote measures aimed at ensuring that all children born in Europe or to European parents outside the region can in practice realise their right to a nationality.

Like Quis’ kids, now ages six and nine, who were born and raised in Malta, but remain stateless. As reported in the Times of Malta earlier this year, Quis himself is stateless because he is among a large group of Kurds who were arbitrarily stripped of their nationality in their home country of Syria many decades ago, so he has no nationality to offer his children. His wife Nessrin is a Syrian citizen but Syrian law does not allow women to transfer nationality so she too is helpless to provide a nationality to her children. Yes, these are children of foreign heritage and the law and policies in Syria have played a significant role in their predicament – but they are also Europe’s children, born and bred, attending school and participating in society in Malta.

Like Drita’s nine children, none of whom are recognised as citizens in their home country of Serbia, or anywhere else. Drita, a Roma woman, has only recently – and after a lengthy struggle culminating in a court procedure – acquired a birth certificate for herself. She had been living without any personal documents because the birth registry in Kosovo in which her birth had been recorded was destroyed. Before she is recognised as Serbian, however, she still needs to complete further long and uncertain procedures relating to the registration of permanent residence and determination of citizenship. Until she can win this battle for herself, she is powerless to help her children resolve their statelessness. But for Drita’s children and hundreds more like them, Serbia is the only country they know and the place they call home.  

Like Elżbieta’s 17-year old daughter, Marysia, brought home from an orphanage when she was just a toddler, but still stateless today as she stands on the cusp of adulthood. Her story was told in the Polish press last July. Marysia was abandoned at a Polish hospital, immediately after birth. All that anyone seems to know about her birth mother is that she was not from Poland – the Doctor’s wrote Romanian on her mother’s hospital record. But Marysia is not recognised by the Romanian authorities as a citizen and it took a long legal battle for Elżbieta to get even a residence permit for her daughter, even though she was born in Poland and is being raised by a Polish couple. Elżbieta’s last hope in solving her daughter’s statelessness is to wait for the outcome of an exceptional procedure through which the President may, at his discretion, award citizenship.

Like Lin’s two young children, a boy aged 4 and a newborn girl – both born in the Netherlands, both stateless. Lin was only a child herself when, at age 14, she was trafficked from China to the Netherlands. Her parents never registered her birth because of the restrictions of the one-child policy and they were hoping for a son. After being rescued from exploitation and testifying as a witness in the prosecution of her traffickers, Lin tried several times to get the Chinese authorities to confirm her nationality, but they will not recognise her as a citizen. Her children were then unable to acquire a nationality at birth. Although her son, at age 4, is now eligible for Dutch nationality under a special safeguard in the law for stateless children born in the country, the authorities have registered him as ‘nationality unknown’ and this is preventing him from invoking the special provision that is designed to protect him from growing up without a nationality.

None of these parents chose for their children to be stateless – in fact they have been fighting to do everything that is within their power to secure a nationality for them, it was simply beyond their reach. They all fear for what a life of statelessness could mean for their children: hardship, questions, suspicion, denied opportunities, unfulfilled potential, a sense of never quite belonging. No parent should have to experience this anguish. No child needs to be stateless. There are a number of simple measures that governments can be take in order to ensure that children who would otherwise be stateless and who have a clear connection to the country, by birth or parentage, are not left without  a nationality. The new ENS campaign launched today seeks to promote these measures and to raise awareness of the need to tackle childhood statelessness so that we can put a halt to the spread of statelessness in the region. If we can achieve this, we will have taken the first critical step towards ending statelessness in Europe.    

Earlier this year, ENS released a report on Childhood statelessness in Europe: Issues, gaps and good practices. This report concluded that although most of Europe’s nationality laws notionally include safeguards to protect against the risk of statelessness, in reality children continue to be born stateless across the region. ENS is committed to helping to change this picture by: raising awareness on the importance of and measures to prevent childhood statelessness, working with the child rights community to foster a more active engagement on the issue of children’s right to a nationality and promote relevant international standards, conducting further research in order to fully identify what gaps exist in law, policy and practice and developing a better understanding of how problematic birth registration procedures are connected to issues of childhood statelessness. A special feature of this campaign will be an outreach programme to schools and youth to help to raise the profile of the issue and to engage youngsters in creating a platform for change.

Over the coming months, ENS will focus on the research dimension of its campaign work. A number of country studies will be carried out to explore how, when and why children are being left without a nationality and what can be done to address this. ENS will also promote research into cross-cutting issues that affect the problem of childhood statelessness across the region. To this end, ENS will convene a regional conference on the children’s right to a nationality in Europe in June 2015 to discuss the challenges and opportunities around ending childhood statelessness. This will provide a venue for the discussion of ENS’ own research findings, but also for the presentation of relevant research conducted by scholars, NGOs and other experts (a call for presenters with full details will be issued early in 2015). The conference will also be the launch-pad from which ENS will embark on broader and more public-facing campaign activities as part of the second phase of its campaign aimed at strengthening frameworks for the prevention of statelessness among Europe’s children.
If you would like to learn more about the ENS campaign ‘None of Europe’s Children should be Stateless’ and how you can get involved, please email You can also write to this address to be added to the mailing list for updates about campaign activities and the forthcoming conference.

Laura van Waas, Campaign Consultant and member of the ENS Advisory Committee; Senior Researcher and Manager of the Statelessness Programme

[This blog first appeared on the website of the European Network on Statelessness]

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Why a campaign to end statelessness matters

Dear friends and colleagues,
It is not easy to imagine what life would be like if you did not hold any nationality. In fact, it is not easy to even imagine this even being possible. Everyone has a birthplace, a family, a home, a community: surely everyone has a nationality? Sadly, no. Millions of people around the world are stateless. They are perpetual foreigners, disenfranchised, not recognised as or able to exercise the rights of citizens in any country. This is a serious problem – for those affected, but also for those of us who do enjoy a nationality and can make a difference, as people who care about and want our children to grow up in a free, fair, safe and democratic world.
We welcome, admire and support the ambitious campaign launched today by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to end statelessness by 2024. Statelessness fundamentally and unequivocally deserves more attention than it has received to date and the time has come for it to take its rightful place amongst other pressing and worrying issues that are already vying for international attention. We are not powerless in the face of statelessness. Citizenship is our own modern-day creation and we set the rules. Bad laws can be amended. Discriminatory policies can be repealed. We believe that with greater awareness of the issue, stronger collaboration and a firm commitment to act, statelessness can be solved. Indeed, we not only believe that statelessness can be tackled, we believe that it must. Statelessness matters, to all of us, for many reasons. Here are just some of them…

If people matter…
Stateless persons are among the world’s most vulnerable. They are seen and treated as foreigners by every country in the world, including the country in which they were born, the country of their ancestors, the country of their residence, the country they happen to find themselves in today and any country they may find themselves expelled to tomorrow. Stateless persons face an extreme form of exclusion that impacts their sense of dignity and identity, as well as their ability to do all sorts of everyday things that most of us take for granted, like go to school, get a job, be treated by a doctor, get married or travel. So, if people matter, statelessness matters.

If children matter…
Many of the world’s stateless persons are children. In fact, in every region of the world, children continue to be born into statelessness and grow up never knowing the protection and recognition that comes with a nationality. Some children inherit their statelessness from stateless parents, creating an intergenerational problem. Others aren’t able to acquire their parents’ or any other nationality due to discriminatory laws and policies or the failure of governments to implement simple legal safeguards that prevent childhood statelessness. Without a nationality, children can have difficulty exercising their rights, become outcasts in their own country, struggle to feel like they belong and grow up to be disenfranchised and excluded adults. So, if children matter, statelessness matters.

If human rights matter…
The contemporary human rights framework is premised on notions of equality, liberty, dignity and universality: we all hold basic rights because we are human beings. But the human rights system also recognises that states may reserve some rights for their citizens, such as the right to vote or be elected, placing these out of reach for stateless people. And in practice, statelessness is a proven barrier to the exercise a wide range of other rights. So the very universality of human right rests on the premise that everyone enjoys a nationality – laid down, for that reason, as a right in most major human rights instruments. Until statelessness is eradicated, the fundamental aspiration of universal human rights remains just that, an aspiration. So, if human rights matter, statelessness matters.

If development matters…
Difficulties accessing education and employment; restricted property rights; lack of opportunities to own or register a business; limited access to a bank account or a loan; and, in some cases, the threat of extortion, detention or expulsion; these factors can trap stateless persons in poverty and make it extremely challenging for them to improve their circumstances. Where statelessness affects whole communities over several successive generations – as it often sadly does – such communities can be neglected by development actors and processes. Statelessness means a waste, of individual potential, of human capital and of development opportunities. So, if development matters, statelessness matters.

If democracy matters…
Nationality is the gateway to political participation. Stateless persons have no right to vote, stand for election or effect change through regular political channels. Their statelessness suppresses their voices and renders their opinions obsolete. In countries with large stateless populations, whole sectors of the constituency are disenfranchised. Elsewhere, statelessness is a tool in the arsenal of those who would seek to manipulate the democratic process, with deprivation of nationality a means of silencing the opposition. To ensure a level and inclusive democratic playing field, stateless persons must also be heard. So, if democracy matters, statelessness matters.

If addressing displacement matters…
Statelessness is a recognised root cause of forced displacement, with stateless persons fleeing their homes and often countries in order to find protection elsewhere. Preventing cases of statelessness is vital for the prevention of refugee flows – a link that has been a key motivation for UNHCR to further operationalise its statelessness mandate and now call to end statelessness. Addressing nationality disputes and tackling statelessness where it arises can also be a key tool in resolving existing refugee situations because it can pave the way for successful voluntary repatriation and reintegration. So, if addressing displacement matters, statelessness matters.

If peace and security matter…
The vulnerability, exclusion, despair, frustration and sometimes persecution experienced by stateless persons can spark other problems. Casting a group as “others” or “outsiders” by denying them access to nationality – in spite of clear and lasting ties to the country – can contribute to attitudes of suspicion and discrimination. This can cause a dangerous build-up of tension within and between communities that may lead to conflict. Disputes surrounding nationality, membership, belonging and entitlement can also hamper peace-building efforts. So, if peace and security matter, statelessness matters.

If size matters…
Many millions of people are affected by statelessness around the world today. UNHCR estimates that there are at least 10 million stateless persons under its mandate and if stateless refugees and stateless Palestinians under UN Relief and Works Agency mandate are added to this tally, the figure is higher still. This means that there are enough stateless persons to create a medium-sized country (although this is not suggested as a solution). Moreover, these numbers do not include the many more who feel the impact of statelessness, for instance because a close family member lacks any nationality. So, if size matters, statelessness matters.

What can you do?
The launch of the campaign led by the UNHCR to end statelessness by 2024 is a great opportunity to reach out to all individuals, communities and organisations, who have it within their capacity to help address statelessness. Please take a moment to reflect on statelessness and its many impacts. Is it relevant to your field of work? Does it affect people in your country? Do people near you experience the vulnerability and exclusion of statelessness?
Sign up to UNHCR’s #ibelong campaign to end statelessness: Start a conversation, discuss the issue, raise awareness and try to use your position and expertise to help. Share this note on ‘Why Statelessness Matters’ with people in your network; watch and share this short video too. If you would like to learn more about statelessness, if you want to do something but are not sure what, or if you are looking for partners to collaborate with, get in touch with us and we will try to help.  If you think your organisation can better integrate statelessness into its work but would like to brainstorm ideas to make this happen, we will support you. If you want to further study the link between your field of expertise and statelessness, we welcome your plans. Together, we can end statelessness. We can also, in the interim, protect and include the stateless. This issue matters.

Amal de Chickera, Laura van Waas and Zahra Albarazi – Founders of the Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion

The Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion is a newly established, independent non-profit organisation dedicated to leading an integrated, inter-disciplinary response to the injustice of statelessness and exclusion. In December 2014, the Institute will release its first publication, “The World’s Stateless”, assessing the challenge of ending statelessness by 2024 by taking a closer look at what we know (and what we don’t know) about who is stateless and where. To find out more or support the Institute’s work, please visit or contact us at  

Thursday, 30 October 2014

UNHCR 2014 Statelessness Research Award interviews... Georgetown Law Human Rights Institute Fact-Finding Project

"Although statelessness in the Dominican Republic has been well-publicized, our project focused on what we considered to be an under-researched dimension of the problem – in the context of significant recent legal developments in the Dominican Republic. We therefore sought to produce a report that could fill this research gap and equip advocates with findings regarding the harsh consequences of statelessness for children of Haitian descent born in the Dominican Republic." 

In this series of blog posts, we are asking the students honoured in this year's UNHCR Awards for Statelessness Research about their experiences studying the phenomenon on statelessness and their research findings. Last in the series is the Georgetown Law Human Rights Institute Fact-Finding Project which received a Certificate of Appreciation from the jury for outstanding student research for the report Left Behind: How Statelessness in the Dominican Republic Limits Children’s Access to EducationThe report was written by a group of eight students, all enrolled in either Georgetown Law’s JD or LLM programme: Khaled Alrabe, Jamie Armstrong, B. Shaw Drake, Kimberly Fetsick, Elizabeth Gibson, Tabitha King, Young-Min Kwon and Franziska Veh. The research was conducted by these students in the context of a year-long practicum course and included a fact-finding mission to the Dominican Republic.

Could you summarise, in 2 or 3 sentences, what your research was about? 
Our research focuses on how statelessness impacts other fundamental rights of children, and particularly the right to education. Our report, “Left Behind: How Statelessness in the Dominican Republic Limits Children’s Access to Education,” shows that many children born in the Dominican Republic but descended from foreigners, particularly Haitians, are denied an education. For generations, such children were recognized as citizens, but within the last decade, the Dominican government has refused to issue many of them birth certificates, identity cards and other essential documentation, and rendered them stateless. The report concludes that the Dominican Republican is failing to comply with its domestic and international human rights obligations, including ensuring protection of the human right to education.

 What first got you interested in the problem of statelessness? 

Each year, HRI pursues work on one human rights issue with a small team of students, giving them the opportunity to research a human rights problem in depth, conduct extensive interviews on the subject, draft a comprehensive report on their findings, and engage in related advocacy. Student participants, with the support of HRI staff and expert faculty, are responsible for identifying the specific issue and designing research that can fill a significant research and advocacy gap.  Our multinational research team includes members from a variety of academic and professional backgrounds, and our interest in statelessness reflects this diverse experience. Some research group members brought particular regional expertise to our project, while others initially became interested in statelessness more generally, through work and academic experience in other areas. Uniting all of the graduate students in the group is a fundamental dedication to international human rights research and advocacy and a desire to cast new light on a particular dimension of the problem of statelessness in the Dominican Republic. 

Why did you choose this particular research topic? 
The topic of statelessness in the Dominican Republic was selected after careful consideration of a number of possible research sites and issues across the Americas. Although statelessness in the Dominican Republic has been well-publicized, our project focused on what we considered to be an under-researched dimension of the problem – in the context of significant recent legal developments in the Dominican Republic. We therefore sought to produce a report that could fill this research gap and equip advocates with findings regarding the harsh consequences of statelessness for children of Haitian descent born in the Dominican Republic. 

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? 
In the Fall of 2013, the team conducted research into statelessness as a legal concept and its dimensions on the ground in the Americas. This process included significant consultation with human rights practitioners, grassroots activists, and legal experts, among others, to identify where there were research gaps to which our investigation could contribute – as well as how our work could relate to international and national advocacy efforts. In January 2014, we travelled to the Dominican Republic for a week to conduct in-person interviews with scores of affected persons, as well as service providers, educators, government officials, human rights practitioners and grassroots activists. Our interviews included children and adults affected by statelessness. Following the trip, we received several official statements from the Ministry of Education that allowed us to compare current policies to practices documented during our trip. We then synthesized these findings into a report. It was a rigorous and rewarding process that allowed us to do hands-on work while remaining grounded in sound legal analysis. 

What was the greatest challenge you had to deal with in undertaking your research? 
The greatest challenge our group faced was the overwhelming depth and long history of the problem we chose to investigate. Narrowing an issue such as statelessness in the Dominican Republic to examine just one aspect of how it impacts the lives of those affected was very difficult and left out so much, including the right to health and labor rights issues. All of these aspects are worthy topics for study. However, we felt that a focus on the impact of statelessness on children and the right to education as a gateway to the enjoyment of other rights would fill both a research gap and contribute a unique perspective to support advocacy promote yet broader protections of human rights in the Dominican Republic. Overcoming this challenge taught us how the toll of statelessness is wide-reaching and that the impacts of statelessness are interconnected. 

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

We found that many children born in the Dominican Republic but descended from foreigners, particularly Haitians, are denied an education. For generations, such children were recognized as citizens, but within the last decade, the Dominican government has refused to issue many of them birth certificates, identity cards and other essential documentation, rendering them stateless. Hence, the Dominican Republic is failing to comply with its domestic and international human rights obligations, including to protect the human right to education. Access to education for Dominicans of Haitian ancestry has been curtailed by discriminatory school policies and the arbitrary application of laws guaranteeing equal access to education.  Many of those we interviewed were denied access to – or a continuous place in – primary or secondary school because they lacked birth certificates. Students are unable to attend university without a cedula if they apply at the age of 18, or are forced to leave if they turn 18 while in university.  Therefore, the Government does not ensure equal access to education in violation of its own Constitution and international law. All of this occurs in spite of laws, policies, constitutional provisions and international human rights commitments that are meant to guarantee children’s right to education. The report found that administrative barriers, discrimination and confusion about the law has meant that in practice not all children in the Dominican Republic are able to go to school. 

Have you found it rewarding to research statelessness – why / why not? 
It has been an extremely rewarding experience to research the impact of statelessness in the Dominican Republic.  Not only were we able to build close relationships with experts in the        field, we were able to meet and speak with numerous individuals affected by statelessness and attempt to provide a platform for expression of their experiences.  Each member of our team takes great pride in our efforts to communicate the stories of children and their families in the Dominican Republic in our report and advocacy. Additionally, we hope that our having conducted research in a growing field will open the door to the unique impact that research like ours can have in other contexts.   

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? 
Our experience was improved by the in-depth background research we carried out while we were identifying a research question and a location for field work. Although we began with a broad    topic, based on a proposal from one member of the research team, the process of critically analysing this and a range of other research questions and field sites was extremely helpful. We would suggest that students and researchers who are interested in carrying out research on statelessness go through a similarly detailed process to identify a focus that stands to fill a gap in existing research. We would also particularly encourage other individual researchers and groups to engage in interview-based field research, as this is a powerful means to connect policy-makers with the practical reality of life for stateless people. As our research was completed by a group, we would further highlight the benefit of embracing diverse perspectives and believe that this contributed to the quality of the report that we were able to produce. Finally, we would emphasize the importance of careful planning when undertaking international field research, the requirement of continuously evaluating issues of risk and safety, and the absolute necessity to treat interviewees with professionalism, care, and generally striving to employ the highest ethical standards in carrying out research.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

UNHCR 2014 Statelessness Research Award interviews... Helen Brunt

"Now is a unique and pertinent time to research statelessness from multi-disciplinary perspectives and through a variety of lenses including natural and social sciences. Furthermore, within the Sustainable Development Goals discourse, statelessness raises particular concerns because of the serious ecological threats to our planet, the vulnerabilities associated with statelessness, and the way that inequalities are reinforced by the condition."

In this series of blog posts, we are asking the students honoured in this year's UNHCR Awards for Statelessness Research about their experiences studying the phenomenon on statelessness and their research findings. Fourth in the series is Ms. Helen Brunt who received a Certificate of Appreciation from the jury for her graduate thesis Stateless Stakeholders, seen but not heard? The case of the Sama Dilaut in Sabah, Malaysia, written in completion of her degree in Anthropology and Development at the University of Sussex (United Kingdom).

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

Natural resource management and statelessness are two growing areas of academic study yet remain, so far, under-researched in combination. In my Masters dissertation I explored their relationship. Through the lens of statelessness, I investigated how some stakeholders are marginalised from participatory processes, how the condition of statelessness affects the extent to which meaningful participation in marine conservation management can occur, and how institutions involved in this management perceive and respond to stateless people. I used a case study of the Sama Dilaut (also referred to as ‘Bajau Laut’), stateless people without political recognition in Malaysia, to challenge some of the assumptions that marine protected areas (MPAs) can provide a win-win solution for conservation and sustainable development.

What first got you interested in the problem of statelessness?

As a passionate environmentalist, in 2004 I was thrilled to be offered my ‘dream job’ coordinating a community and marine conservation project in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo. While I was engaged with indigenous peoples’ issues, ten years ago I was ignorant to the plight of people with no nationality and no human rights protection, things that I as a British citizen took for granted. However, over the course of the next 8 years I became increasingly aware of the implications of statelessness through first hand experiences and close involvement with the Sama Dilaut, largely stateless group but who have for centuries lived in boats and on islands in the waters now overlaid by the current nation-states of Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines, yet are not considered to be citizens of any country. Today, many Sama Dilaut find themselves living in marine parks or ‘conservation zones’ and, although a key stakeholder group, rarely participate in management decisions that affect their lives and livelihoods. My research interests were therefore motivated directly by my personal experiences.

Why did you choose this particular research topic?

Whilst living in Sabah, on an almost daily basis, I saw out of one eye the dire state of our planet from an environmental perspective, and from the other, I saw people who were unable to move freely, be legally employed or married, access affordable healthcare, receive an education or make their voices heard. I saw such inequalities and barriers to inclusion of the Sama Dilaut in Malaysian society as being reinforced and perpetuated by their stateless status. Through my research I wanted to move anthropological and conservationist theories of stakeholders beyond what I saw as the problematic frameworks of ‘community’, ‘marginalised or minority groups’, and ‘resource users’ which I felt overlooked a lack of recognition by the state and thus denial of access to rights and representation allowed by citizenship.

I took the opportunity of dissertation research to examine in more detail the implications of statelessness on peoples’ every day lives, and to question whether ‘community participation’ is ever really possible due to the complexities of power dynamics, issues of visibility and audibility, conflicting interests, as well as the quality of participatory processes. I also examined how stateless people in Sabah are portrayed by the state, NGOs and other stakeholders, how the Sama Dilaut interact with management authorities and NGOs, and what some of the perceptions and processes are that serve to sustain the stateless position of the Sama Dilaut.

I titled my dissertation ‘Stateless Stakeholders, Seen but not Heard?’ as although the Sama Dilaut may be ‘seen’ through documentaries about their traditional lifestyle and livelihoods, and ‘consulted’ by NGOs espousing ‘participatory’ approaches to natural resource management, as stateless people they are not ‘heard’ by those whose decisions affect their lives, and thus they remain peripheral in every sense of the word.

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 chose my research topic due to my existing personal connections and because marine conservation reflects many of the broad environmental and social issues facing protected area managers. I also felt that there was a need to draw out formal and informal connections which reflect power dynamics and relations between different stakeholders, including the lived experiences – their reality – of people living in an area where there are restrictions to accessing the resources on which they depend.

I approached my research using qualitative and quantitative methods of data collection and analysis (a ‘mixed methods’ approach), drawing from both primary and secondary sources. My principle sources were the work of academics from the fields of natural resource management, statelessness and participation, as well as published and unpublished material from policy makers and practitioners working in marine conservation, including data I had collected while coordinating the Semporna Islands Project from 2004 until 2012. I also conducted an additional 2 months of fieldwork in 2013, which involved conventional anthropological techniques of participant observation, as well as interviews with key stakeholders. Fieldwork was the part of my research that I found the most inspiring.

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

One challenge I had to deal with was logistical. Despite being meticulously planned, 3 months prior to my departure, my fieldwork trip threatened to be seriously disrupted by an ‘incursion’ of my field site in eastern Sabah by armed rebels from the southern Philippines, who were pursuing a 300-year old claim to the region. Fortunately, the UK government’s travel advisory was lifted just weeks before I commenced my fieldwork but it brought to the forefront some of the challenges of conducting social research in unstable areas and with vulnerable people.

Another challenge I faced was a personal one. As the coordinator of a multi-stakeholder project, I had held a unique and interstitial position, through which I developed an awareness of the complexities surrounding the multiple divisions of ‘insider:outsider’ at a micro-level. Subsequently, I realised the need to reflect on my own positionality. The opportunity to return to the field after a year away, and the research and writing of my Masters dissertation, allowed me the time and space for this.

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

My analysis of the nexus of statelessness, participation and stakeholders revealed that environmental management is a complex domain involving power constellations and competing demands for natural resources as well as equitable benefit sharing. The ability of different stakeholders to communicate their views is a vital component to the process. However, in my research I found that a disjuncture has emerged between marine conservation managers and the stateless Sama Dilaut, a key stakeholder group.

In reality, their vulnerable position as stateless people is driven by various physical, economic, political and social barriers to meaningful participation in natural resource management, all of which overlook the unique aspect of their statelessness. I also exposed the interstitial position of conservation NGOs at ‘brokers’ who mediate in ‘participatory’ processes.

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

Research and writing my Masters dissertation was one of the most rewarding and cathartic periods of my life so far. During the process I reflected on the complex social dynamics and personal dimensions at the locale in which I was involved.  I became enlightened to the many advantages that the inclusion of ethnographic research can bring to conservation and development. I am now fortunate enough to be working with the Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network, and am deeply committed to elevating statelessness on regional and international platforms, and advocating for the rights of stateless people around the world.

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?

Echoing Dr Jason Tucker, and as identified during the First Global Forum on Statelessness commemorating the 60th anniversary of the 1954 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, now is a unique and pertinent time to research statelessness from multi-disciplinary perspectives and through a variety of lenses including natural and social sciences. Furthermore, within the Sustainable Development Goals discourse, statelessness raises particular concerns because of the serious ecological threats to our planet, the vulnerabilities associated with statelessness, and the way that inequalities are reinforced by the condition. Following Amal de Chickera’s article, I would also encourage more holistic and ethnographic studies on statelessness by a wide spectrum of researchers (including the stateless themselves) in order to unveil the multitude of human stories behind ‘statelessness’.