Photo: Mariam Djimé Adam, 33, arrived from Sudan with her 8 children. "We were attacked in our home, my husband was killed and all our belongings were taken. I managed to escape with my children. © UNICEF/Mahamat - Photo: 2024

UN Keen to Tackle Global Refugee Crisis and Statelessness

By Ramesh Jaura

BERLIN | 16 June 2024 (IDN) — While the European focus is on the Russo-Ukrainian war, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is concerned about those crossing terrain such as deserts and seas without adequate resources to escape war, poverty, or climate catastrophe—often at risk of losing their lives or becoming victims of various kinds of crime such as murder, rape, kidnapping, torture and human trafficking or becoming stateless.

According to the UNHCR flagship Global Trend Report, published on June 13, the number of displaced people worldwide has doubled since 2014. That year, there were around 59.2 million displaced people in the world. The numbers have since increased to 117 million by the end of 2023 and reached 120 million in May this year. The number of refugees has also doubled in the same period.

This means that one in every 69 people worldwide is forcibly displaced and the number continues to grow, despite nearly 6 million, including one million refugees, who returned to their homes last year. Besides, the global stateless population was estimated at 4.4 million by the end of 2023.

The largest number of overall forcibly displaced people still come from Syria, where nearly 13.8 million live as refugees or internally displaced people due to a war which began in 2011.

“Without better cooperation and concerted efforts to address conflict, human rights violations and the climate crisis, displacement figures will keep rising, bringing fresh misery and costly humanitarian responses,” said Filippo Grandi, the UN Human Rights Commissioner.

In recent years, the largest number of displaced people have come from Sudan, where the war between the nation’s army, led by Abdel Fatah al-Burah, and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) led by Mohamad Hammad Dagalo (Hemedti) broke out in April 2023. The war has forced nearly 11 million people to flee their homes, cities and villages by the end of 2023. This includes over 9 million internally displaced people, which is the largest number ever recorded for a country.

Millions have also been displaced in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Myanmar, Yemen and several other countries which have witnessed or are still witnessing prolonged conflicts.

Over 1.8 million Palestinians have been displaced by Israeli forces in Gaza in a genocidal war ongoing since 7 October, making nearly 75 per cent of all Palestinians in the besieged territory displaced, according to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the designated refugee agency for displaced Palestinians.

Ending statelessness

The global stateless population was estimated at 4.4 million by the end of 2023. However, 565,900 of them have acquired citizenship since the launch of UNHCR’s #IBelong Campaign in 2014.

In 2023, UNHCR launched the “Strategic Plan 2023-2026: Redoubling Our Efforts on Ending Statelessness” with the aim “to achieve transformative and measurable changes by 2026 in the reduction and prevention of statelessness and the protection of stateless people”. To this end, UNHCR has intensified policy and public advocacy to encourage country-level action for legislative and policy reforms to grant nationality to stateless populations and to prevent statelessness.

Work is underway to establish a Global Alliance to End Statelessness, a new multi-stakeholder platform which will bring together Member States, regional organizations, UN entities, stateless-led organizations and other civil society actors. The alliance is designed to advance action and solutions at the country level, including by supporting pledge implementation. The Alliance will also work to accelerate change on thematic issues such as gender discrimination and childhood statelessness.

During the 2023 Global Refugee Forum, 24 entities, including 11 States, along with 13 organizations, have already committed to joining the Global Alliance which will be launched in October 2024.

UNHCR’s Global Trend Report points out that though causes of statelessness are different across situations, gaps in nationality laws or discrimination based on gender, race, ethnicity, religion or language, excluding people and entire communities from access to citizenship, contribute to stateless people being often denied enjoyment of their human rights, such as education, healthcare, civil and political participation, as well as access to essential public services and the formal labour market.

Statelessness may also perpetuate across generations, if safeguards are not in place to ensure that every child can acquire a nationality at birth, regardless of their parent’s nationality status. States have the power and responsibility for legal and policy reforms that are necessary to effectively address statelessness.

States improving laws

According to UNHCR, in 2023, 14 States improved their laws, policies and procedures to prevent and reduce statelessness. Several countries, including Moldova, North Macedonia, Kyrgyzstan and the Bahamas, introduced legal amendments to ensure that children are not born into statelessness and do not inherit it from their parents.

Brazil’s constitutional amendment prevents the loss of Brazilian nationality when acquiring

another and safeguards against statelessness resulting from renunciation of nationality. USA has put into effect new policy guidance to identify and assist stateless individuals, while Portugal approved legal amendments with a view to establishing a statelessness determination procedure.

At regional level, an important milestone was reached as the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights Relating to the Specific Aspects of the Right to a Nationality and the Eradication of Statelessness in Africa was adopted by the African Union Specialized Technical Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs in December 2023. It was subsequently submitted for adoption by the African Union Assembly of Heads of State and Government in February 2024.

UNHCR has called for improved statistics, data collection and reporting mechanisms, which play an essential role in addressing statelessness. “A more accurate understanding of statelessness worldwide is required, evidenced by data, including the identification of the protection needs and living conditions of those affected by it and the barriers to solutions for stateless people,” says the Report.

The International Recommendations on Statelessness Statistics (IROSS) 106 are guiding recommendations, developed by the Expert Group on Refugee, IDP and Statelessness Statistics (EGRISS) to improve the production, coordination and dissemination of statelessness statistics at a national and international level.

Endorsed by the United Nations Statistical Commission in March 2023, the recommendations are being used to inform important data collection exercises on statelessness. For example, in Rwanda the IROSS was used to guide relevant identification questions in its recent population and housing census.

Using the census results, areas where populations that may be stateless or at risk reside could be mapped. Targeted surveys are planned in these areas to obtain more detailed information about the profiles of the populations and the causes and risk factors of statelessness. [IDN-InDepthNews]

Photo: Mariam Djimé Adam, 33, arrived from Sudan with her 8 children. “We were attacked in our home, my husband was killed and all our belongings were taken. I managed to escape with my children. © UNICEF/Mahamat

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