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UN refugee agency and NGO appeal to United States to do more to end statelessness

Credit: UNHCR
Credit: UNHCR

UN refugee agency and NGO appeal to United States to do more to end statelessness

The United Nations refugee agency and a global non-governmental organisation are jointly appealing to the United States Government to take further action to end the hardships facing stateless people in the North American country.

In a report released today – Citizens of Nowhere: Solutions for the Stateless in the U.S. – the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Open Society Justice Initiative recommend changes that include action by the US Congress and the Administration to resolve statelessness in the United States.

“For millions of people around the world statelessness is all too real. It means living without rights that most people take for granted, being at constant risk of detention, and having a life of ever-present fear and uncertainty,” UNHCR’s Washington, D.C.-based regional representative, Vincent Cochetel, said in a news release.

He noted that the US has a long history as a global leader in human rights, citing its pledge at a December 2011 UNHCR ministerial conference in Geneva, in which it said it would undertake important actions to reduce statelessness, both internationally and domestically.

“Meaningful steps toward fulfilling those pledges have already been taken, and the recommendations in our report provide a path for the United States to build on those actions and set a true example for other nations in providing solutions to statelessness,” Mr. Cochetel said.

According to UNHCR, there are up to 12 million people worldwide who are stateless individuals, deprived of a citizenship and its benefits, and as a result of that, many lack full access to services.

In the news release, the refugee agency noted that in the absence of reliable statistics it is hard to know precise numbers for the total global number of stateless people – including of those living in the United States. Stateless people in the United States cannot travel outside the country and must report to immigration authorities from once per week to once per year.

Many stateless people, UNHCR continued, once had a nationality but lost it when the countries they were citizens of ceased to exist, while some have been arbitrarily stripped of their nationality, often because of their race. Others have been without citizenship since birth – for example, in countries where flawed nationality laws mean women are not allowed to pass on nationality to their children.

The world body’s refugee agency is campaigning to end statelessness worldwide. At the December ministerial meeting in Geneva last year, 61 governments pledged to take action on statelessness, including the United States.

Since UNHCR’s campaign started in 2010, 15 States have acceded to one or both of the UN statelessness conventions: the 1954 Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons and the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness.

The 1954 Convention establishes basic rights for stateless persons, while the 1961 Convention sets out safeguards to prevent statelessness from occurring and reduce the stateless population over time.