Ending statelessness in Europe is realistic goal by 2024, UN refugee agency says

1 June 2015

The United Nations refugee agency, which has launched a campaign, #IBelong, to end the suffering of some 10 million stateless people across the world by the year 2024, said today that addressing the plight for 600,000 people at the margins of society in Europe “is doable” in that timeframe.

“In Europe, we take many things for granted such as access to education, health care, employment and travel, but some 600,000 people across the continent still do not enjoy these basic rights,” said Vincent Cochetel, the Director for Europe for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). “They are stateless.”

Mr. Cochetel spoke in an interview about the strategy to end statelessness and the risks of more people becoming stateless on the eve of a conference UNHCR and its partners have scheduled in Budapest, Hungary, tomorrow and Wednesday that will be focusing on the need to help stateless children, who make up a third of the world’s stateless and if they have children of their own, this generation will also be stateless.

“Making statelessness disappear is a realistic objective in Europe,” he said. “A lot of mapping of stateless populations has been undertaken; the problem is identified and manageable. I am convinced that all European countries will become state parties to the statelessness conventions before the end of the [UNHCR] #IBelong campaign in 2024.”

“By then, no child should be born stateless in Europe,” he said. “This is doable. Reducing statelessness in Europe, to a large extent, is a question of political will.”

Last year, UNHCR launched the #IBelong campaign to end the suffering of an estimated 10 million stateless people across the world by the year 2024, including those in Europe. As part of this drive, the UN refugee agency advises governments on how to reduce or prevent statelessness and helps them respect the human rights of these people.

Mr. Cochetel flagged three major obstacles to ending statelessness in Europe, namely “statelessness at birth among populations living in precarious conditions” such as the Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian minorities in the Balkans and in Central Europe, and a couple of countries, like the Russian Federation, arguing that their domestic legislation provides better guarantees against statelessness than the two international instruments relating to statelessness, and some stateless people who want to remain stateless because, this way.

He also noted that despite assumptions that there would be no more wars and displacement in Europe, the conflict in Ukraine, [which has displaced 1.3 million people, has been a reminder that there is no such guarantee and that stateless people may have difficulties with civil registration which represents a new risk of statelessness.

Another risk, Mr. Cochetel noted, was that there are “more and more non-state entities in Europe controlling territory: Nagorno Karabakh, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Transnistria and those parts of eastern Ukraine that are not controlled by the government.”

“Although we may not look at these situations through the lens of statelessness, in the longer term they could give rise to statelessness,” according to the veteran UNHCR representative.

“But with political will, I am convinced ending statelessness by 2024 is a realistic objective in Europe,” he concluded.

UNHCR was mandated in the 1970s to assist stateless people under the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness and its role was consolidated in 1995.


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