The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has said more action is needed to resolve the plight of millions around the world who are still without citizenship.
UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi said this is a statement released today as the UN Refugee Agency is marking seven years since the launch of its “IBelong Campaign to End Statelessness”.
He said that significant progress has been made over the past few years, but governments must do more to close the legal and policy gaps that continue to leave millions of people stateless or allow children to be born into statelessness.
He noted that Statelessness, or the situation of not being recognized as a citizen by any country, affects millions of people around the world.
He added that Stateless people cannot often access the most basic of rights, including being able to go to school, work legally, access health services, marry, or register the birth of a child.
“Statelessness has many causes which are typically the result of gaps or flaws in nationality laws, and how they are implemented. Discrimination – including on the basis of ethnicity, religion and gender – is a major driver of statelessness,” he explained
Grandi went to say that because they are not recognized as citizens, stateless people are often deprived of legal rights or basic services which leaves them politically and economically marginalized and vulnerable to discrimination, exploitation, and abuse.
According to Grandi, these people may also not be able to access COVID-19 testing, treatment or vaccination, and may have little access to support or protection in the face of climate risks
The UN High Commissioner adds, “Governments hold power to enact legal and policy reforms that can help stateless people on their territory acquire citizenship or prevent statelessness from occurring in the first place, sometimes with the stroke of a pen, or a relatively simple legal change. It remains an easily avoidable and solvable issue”.
Worldwide, UNHCR’s statistical reporting counts 4.2 million stateless people in some 94 countries. Given that most countries do not collect any data on statelessness, the actual figure is believed to be substantially higher.
To date, 96 States are party to the 1954 UN Convention on the Status of Stateless Persons, and 77 are party to the 1961 UN Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness.
Despite being a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention, the Government of Malawi is yet to ratify the 1961 UN Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness but has over the years opened its frontiers to welcome asylum seekers.