Ensuring the right to a nationality, more urgent than ever: UNHCR — Global Issues

Ensuring the right to a nationality, more urgent than ever: UNHCR — Global Issues


“New global challenges, such as COVID-19 and the effects of climate change, in addition to persistent problems such as increasing forced displacement, show how crucial the right to a nationality is,” said Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

“Having a nationality – and the protection of a government that offers nationality – can make a life-saving difference, especially in times of crisis, whether it be vaccination, evacuation or providing the social safety net that is needed.”

Falling between the gorges

Stateless persons can fall between the cracks in conflict and displacement situations because they lack protection from any government, have no proof of their legal identity, or both, the UN agency warned.

They may also be at risk of being barred from access to COVID-19 vaccinations, and are unlikely to be included in countries’ socio-economic aid packages designed to reduce the impact of the pandemic on livelihoods.

In addition, as climate change worsens, stateless persons risk being excluded from government efforts to mitigate the effects of extreme weather events, the agency added. More generally, being stateless means having no access to education, medical care or legal employment.

Statelessness can hinder freedom of movement, the ability to buy real estate, vote, open a bank account or even get married.

More than 4 million affected

Worldwide it is known that 4.2 million people are stateless. However, the UNHCR estimates that the actual number of individuals not recognized as citizens by any country is likely to be much higher, given the gaps in data collection.

On the anniversary of the 1961 Convention, the Agency reminds all States that application of the Convention would help ensure that no child is born without nationality and would ultimately support the eradication of statelessness over time.

By the end of August 2021, 77 states had signed up to the 1961 Convention, and more and more states have signed up over the past ten years.

Since 2010, 40 states have formalized their commitment to reduce statelessness by becoming parties, most recently Iceland and Togo. In the same period, more than 800,000 stateless persons are known to have had their nationality confirmed and statelessness resolved.

© UNHCR / Gabriel Adeyemo

A displaced Nigerian woman is happy that the children she gave birth to are getting birth certificates.

Termination of statelessness

Accession to the 1961 Convention is one of the 10 actions of the Global Action Plan to End Statelessness. The plan provides a framework for states to achieve the goals of the #IBelong campaign, launched in 2014 by UNHCR and partners to end statelessness within 10 years.

“In this anniversary year, UNHCR urges all states that have not yet done so to adhere to the 1961 Convention for the Reduction of Statelessness, to incorporate the safeguards of the Convention into their nationality laws, and to protect everyone’s right to guarantee a nationality,” said Mr. Grandi.

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