SARAJEVO, November 11 (FENA) – UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi warned today that COVID-19 is worsening the plight of millions of stateless people worldwide.
Marking the sixth anniversary of UNHCR’s #IBelong Campaign, aimed at ending statelessness by 2024, Grandi called on world leaders to include and protect stateless populations and make bold and swift moves to eradicate statelessness.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has shown more than ever the need for inclusion and the urgency to resolve statelessness. A pandemic doesn’t discriminate between citizens and non-citizens. It is not in any state’s, society’s or community’s interest for people to be left stateless and living on the margins of society,’ Grandi said.
“We must redouble efforts to resolve this affront to humanity in the 21st century,” he added.
Lacking important legal rights and often unable to access essential services, many stateless people are politically and economically marginalized, discriminated against and vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. In many countries, stateless people, including stateless refugees, live in sub-standard and inadequate sanitary conditions which can increase the risk of disease, UNHCR announced.
It is said in a statement that though global data is hard to obtain as stateless populations are not always accounted for or included in national censuses, some 4.2 million stateless people are reported by UNHCR in 76 countries. The actual number is believed, however, to be substantially higher.
While significant progress has been made in reducing statelessness worldwide since the launch of the campaign in November 2014, the coronavirus pandemic has now exacerbated many of the difficulties and injustices that stateless people face.
“Without citizenship, many stateless people do not have access to or are not included in essential public health services and social safety nets. They have been left extremely vulnerable in the face of this pandemic,” said Grandi.
Some countries have, however, shown leadership by including stateless people in their response to COVID-19, ensuring they have access to testing and treatment, food, clothing and masks. Some governments have made birth registration and other forms of civil documentation an essential service, maintaining operations despite the pandemic, helping to prevent new cases of statelessness arising.
“Statelessness is an easily resolvable and preventable issue – a matter of political will to change a person’s status and life – yet the consequences of inaction especially during the middle of a pandemic can be life-threatening. To protect and save lives, we urge governments to resolve statelessness and make sure that no one is left behind,” said Grandi.
UNHCR stated that since the start of the #IBelong Campaign almost 350,000 stateless people acquired a nationality in places as diverse as Kyrgyzstan, Kenya, Tajikistan, Thailand, Russia, Sweden, Viet Nam, Uzbekistan and the Philippines.
There have been 25 accessions to the two UN Statelessness Conventions, amounting to 94 countries that are now party to the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, and 75 to the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness.
According to UNHCR estimates, less than 100 people are currently at risk of statelessness in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
As is the case in other parts of the world, various, often interrelated factors – namely, the break-up of the former Yugoslavia, economic, social and political exclusion of national minorities and lack of access to birth registration, especially in already marginalized communities – cause statelessness, UNHCR announced.
They add that since 2008 when the programs intended for that purpose started, UNHCR in BiH has managed to identify 1,777 people at risk of statelessness (mostly children / mothers with children), and help them in the process of registration in the registers of births and citizens as well as to obtain all necessary identification documents.