Monthly Archives: November 2014

PRESS RELEASE: IRIN humanitarian news service to spin off from the UN

 

 

A NEW START FOR CRISIS REPORTING

 

 

IRIN humanitarian news service to spin off from the UN. Jynwel Foundation invests $25 million to create global non-profit media venture

 

 

(GENEVA, November 20, 2014) – After nearly 20 years as part of the United Nations, the humanitarian news service IRIN is spinning off to become an independent non-profit media venture, with the support of a major private donor.

 

 

IRIN is an award-winning humanitarian news and analysis service covering the parts of the world often under-reported, misunderstood or ignored. It delivers unique reporting from the frontlines of conflicts and natural disasters to 280,000 web visitors a month and more than 50,000 subscribers in almost every country. Its readership includes UN decision-makers, donor governments, academics, media and aid workers in the field. Its work is syndicated, republished and cited by news outlets and journals from around the world.

 

 

A new beginning starting January 1, 2015 will be made possible with an initial commitment of US $25 million, to be disbursed over several years, from the Hong Kong-based Jynwel Charitable Foundation. The new IRIN will be based in Switzerland, with support from the UK- based Overseas Development Institute’s (ODI) Humanitarian Policy Group.

 

 

The UN Humanitarian Chief, Valerie Amos, said: “IRIN is an important resource for humanitarian workers around the world. This is the right time for the service to branch out and we welcome the generous commitment from Jynwel Charitable Foundation which has helped to secure its future as an independent news service.”

 

 

Jho Low, Director of Jynwel Charitable Foundation, added: “IRIN’s transition presents a great opportunity for growth and revitalization. IRIN has done fantastic work for nearly 20 years. It’s time to give it the place on the world stage that it deserves. I believe in the vision and am excited by the potential.”

 

 

Since 2012, Jynwel Charitable Foundation has supported a range of causes in global health, conservation and education. Major gifts of the Foundation include a 15-year commitment to MD Anderson Cancer Center to democratize access to cancer care, a 10-year commitment to Panthera, the leading wild cat conservation organization, and a 5-year commitment to National Geographic’s Pristine Seas to identify and preserve the last pristine areas in our oceans. The multi-year commitment to IRIN is the Foundation’s first investment in the humanitarian sector.

 

 

Ben Parker, co-founder of IRIN and its interim director, said: “So many people – from those hit by crises to donors – tell us they rely on our insight and analysis. This breakthrough will make all the difference and allow us to take the service to a whole new level of impact and relevance.”ODI’s Executive Director, Kevin Watkins, said: “We are delighted to support this transition for IRIN, and are excited at the prospect of an independent IRIN playing a leading role in providing up-to-date and on-the-ground analysis of humanitarian crises to inform policy and practice in the sector, in particular through our Humanitarian Policy Group.” ODI is the UK’s leading independent think tank on international development and humanitarian issues.

 

 

For further information and interview requests:

 

 

IRIN, Jynwel Foundation, and ODI: Heba Aly, heba@irinnews.org, Cell: +41 76 643 4151

 

 

OCHA: Jens Laerke, laerke@un.org, Cell: +41 79 472 9750

 

 

About IRIN:

 

 

IRIN, originally the “Integrated Regional Information Networks”, started distributing humanitarian news about Central Africa by fax from a small office in Nairobi in 1995. Over the years, its award-winning coverage expanded to the rest of Africa, South East Asia and the Middle East. IRIN publishes reports in English, French and Arabic and has a monthly online audience of 280,000 website visitors. It has around 100,000 articles and 30,000 photos in its archive. Its audience is drawn from the aid, media, diplomatic and non-profit communities in some 190 countries.

 

 

About Jynwel Charitable Foundation Limited:

 

 

Jynwel Charitable Foundation Limited (“Jynwel Foundation”) is the philanthropic initiative of Jynwel Capital, an international investment and advisory firm. Jynwel represents the third generation of the Low family business and philanthropy. Jynwel Foundation is built on the family’s heritage and vision for investing in society, and seeks to fund breakthrough programs that are working to solve the world’s toughest problems in global health, education and conservation.

 

 

About Overseas Development Institute:

 

 

The Overseas Development Institute (ODI) is a leading independent think tank on international development and humanitarian issues. ODI’s mission is to inspire and inform policy and practice which lead to the reduction of poverty, the alleviation of suffering and the achievement of sustainable livelihoods, by locking together high-quality applied research, practical policy advice and policy-focused dissemination and debate.

 

 

About the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs:

 

 

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) is the part of the United Nations Secretariat responsible for bringing together humanitarian actors to ensure a coherent response to emergencies. OCHA’s mission is to: mobilize and coordinate effective and principled humanitarian action in partnership with national and international actors in order to alleviate human suffering in disasters and emergencies; advocate the rights of people in need; promote preparedness and prevention; and facilitate sustainable solutions.

 

 

 

 

100867 Feature Migration Conflict Food Health Human Rights PRESS RELEASE: IRIN humanitarian news service to spin off from the UN IRIN GENEVA Burundi Congo, Republic of Djibouti DRC Eritrea Ethiopia Kenya Rwanda Somalia Sudan Tanzania Uganda Angola Botswana Lesotho Madagascar Malawi Mauritius Mozambique Namibia Seychelles South Africa Swaziland Zambia Zimbabwe Benin Burkina Faso Cameroon Cape Verde Chad Côte d’Ivoire Equatorial Guinea Gabon Gambia Ghana Guinea Guinea-Bissau Liberia Mali Mauritania Niger Nigeria Sao Tome and Principe Senegal Sierra Leone Togo Colombia Samoa Morocco

PRESS RELEASE: IRIN humanitarian news service to spin off from the UN

 

A NEW START FOR CRISIS REPORTING

IRIN humanitarian news service to spin off from the UN. Jynwel Foundation invests $25 million to create global non-profit media venture

(GENEVA, November 20, 2014) – After nearly 20 years as part of the United Nations, the humanitarian news service IRIN is spinning off to become an independent non-profit media venture, with the support of a major private donor.

IRIN is an award-winning humanitarian news and analysis service covering the parts of the world often under-reported, misunderstood or ignored. It delivers unique reporting from the frontlines of conflicts and natural disasters to 280,000 web visitors a month and more than 50,000 subscribers in almost every country. Its readership includes UN decision-makers, donor governments, academics, media and aid workers in the field. Its work is syndicated, republished and cited by news outlets and journals from around the world.

A new beginning starting January 1, 2015 will be made possible with an initial commitment of US $25 million, to be disbursed over several years, from the Hong Kong-based Jynwel Charitable Foundation. The new IRIN will be based in Switzerland, with support from the UK- based Overseas Development Institute’s (ODI) Humanitarian Policy Group.

The UN Humanitarian Chief, Valerie Amos, said: “IRIN is an important resource for humanitarian workers around the world. This is the right time for the service to branch out and we welcome the generous commitment from Jynwel Charitable Foundation which has helped to secure its future as an independent news service.”

Jho Low, Director of Jynwel Charitable Foundation, added: “IRIN’s transition presents a great opportunity for growth and revitalization. IRIN has done fantastic work for nearly 20 years. It’s time to give it the place on the world stage that it deserves. I believe in the vision and am excited by the potential.”

Since 2012, Jynwel Charitable Foundation has supported a range of causes in global health, conservation and education. Major gifts of the Foundation include a 15-year commitment to MD Anderson Cancer Center to democratize access to cancer care, a 10-year commitment to Panthera, the leading wild cat conservation organization, and a 5-year commitment to National Geographic’s Pristine Seas to identify and preserve the last pristine areas in our oceans. The multi-year commitment to IRIN is the Foundation’s first investment in the humanitarian sector.

Ben Parker, co-founder of IRIN and its interim director, said: “So many people – from those hit by crises to donors – tell us they rely on our insight and analysis. This breakthrough will make all the difference and allow us to take the service to a whole new level of impact and relevance.”ODI’s Executive Director, Kevin Watkins, said: “We are delighted to support this transition for IRIN, and are excited at the prospect of an independent IRIN playing a leading role in providing up-to-date and on-the-ground analysis of humanitarian crises to inform policy and practice in the sector, in particular through our Humanitarian Policy Group.” ODI is the UK’s leading independent think tank on international development and humanitarian issues.

For further information and interview requests:

IRIN, Jynwel Foundation, and ODI: Heba Aly, heba@irinnews.org, Cell: +41 76 643 4151

OCHA: Jens Laerke, laerke@un.org, Cell: +41 79 472 9750

About IRIN:

IRIN, originally the “Integrated Regional Information Networks”, started distributing humanitarian news about Central Africa by fax from a small office in Nairobi in 1995. Over the years, its award-winning coverage expanded to the rest of Africa, South East Asia and the Middle East. IRIN publishes reports in English, French and Arabic and has a monthly online audience of 280,000 website visitors. It has around 100,000 articles and 30,000 photos in its archive. Its audience is drawn from the aid, media, diplomatic and non-profit communities in some 190 countries.

About Jynwel Charitable Foundation Limited:

Jynwel Charitable Foundation Limited (“Jynwel Foundation”) is the philanthropic initiative of Jynwel Capital, an international investment and advisory firm. Jynwel represents the third generation of the Low family business and philanthropy. Jynwel Foundation is built on the family’s heritage and vision for investing in society, and seeks to fund breakthrough programs that are working to solve the world’s toughest problems in global health, education and conservation.

About Overseas Development Institute:

The Overseas Development Institute (ODI) is a leading independent think tank on international development and humanitarian issues. ODI’s mission is to inspire and inform policy and practice which lead to the reduction of poverty, the alleviation of suffering and the achievement of sustainable livelihoods, by locking together high-quality applied research, practical policy advice and policy-focused dissemination and debate.

About the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs:

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) is the part of the United Nations Secretariat responsible for bringing together humanitarian actors to ensure a coherent response to emergencies. OCHA’s mission is to: mobilize and coordinate effective and principled humanitarian action in partnership with national and international actors in order to alleviate human suffering in disasters and emergencies; advocate the rights of people in need; promote preparedness and prevention; and facilitate sustainable solutions.

 

100867 Feature Health Human Rights Food Migration Conflict PRESS RELEASE: IRIN humanitarian news service to spin off from the UN IRIN GENEVA Angola Burkina Faso Burundi Benin Botswana DRC Congo, Republic of Côte d’Ivoire Cameroon Colombia Cape Verde Djibouti Eritrea Ethiopia Gabon Ghana Gambia Guinea Equatorial Guinea Guinea-Bissau Kenya Liberia Lesotho Morocco Madagascar Mali Mauritania Mauritius Malawi Mozambique Namibia Niger Nigeria Rwanda Seychelles Sudan Sierra Leone Senegal Somalia Sao Tome and Principe Swaziland Chad Togo Tanzania Uganda Samoa South Africa Zambia Zimbabwe

An ambitious plan to end statelessness

It is now 60 years since stateless people received recognition in international law, and the UN has two conventions (1954 and 1961) dedicated to their protection and the regularization of their situation. Yet an estimated 10 million people worldwide still suffer the problems and indignities of having no nationality.

“It may be a bit of understatement to say that these are the two least loved multilateral human rights treaties,” said Mark Manly, head of the UN Refugee Agency’s (UNHCR) statelessness unit. “For many years they were pretty much forgotten and that was in large part because they had no UN agency promoting them.” 

Manly has responsibility for the issue of statelessness, even though most stateless people neither are, nor have ever been, refugees, and this week UNHCR launched an ambitious plan to try to end statelessness over the next 10 years. 

The plan breaks down the issue into 10 action points, addressing the main reasons why people end up stateless. Sometimes it’s because children were not registered at birth, or because discriminatory laws prevent their mothers from passing on their own nationality. Some are the victims of ethnic discrimination by countries which refuse to recognize members of their community as citizens; others, especially in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, have fallen down the cracks between countries, as it were, after boundaries were redrawn and states divided. 

In some of the world’s major situations of statelessness UNHCR is already involved. In 1989 tens of thousands of Black African Mauritanians fled to Senegal to get away from murderous ethnic persecution. A large number of the refugees who came scrambling across the river border had no papers. Their Mauritanian identity cards had been confiscated or torn up by members of the security forces or by their fellow citizens, who told them, “Tu n’est pas Maure; alors tu n’est pas Mauritanian” (You are not a Moor, an Arab, so you are not a Mauritanian).

Senegalese nationality law is generous, and allows them to apply for citizenship after five years’ residence, but many have preferred to go home to Mauritania, assisted by UNHCR which supplied them with travel documents under an agreement governing their return. But large numbers are now finding themselves effectively stateless. Manly told IRIN: “What that agreement says, if I remember correctly, is that the nationality of the refugees is ‘presumed’ – they are presumed to be Mauritanian. However, many people have faced real problems in getting the documentation to prove that they really are Mauritanian, so there is clearly an issue.” 

“Some 24,000 have returned,” adds Bronwen Manby, a consultant who has worked on this issue. “But the Mauritanian organizations are telling us that only about a third have got their documents. It’s the standard sort of situation,” she told IRIN, “where in principle, of course – but then documents were destroyed, and then they find that the name is Mohamed with one ‘m’ instead of Mohammed with two ‘m’s, and then it’s in French and not in Arabic – there needs to be more pressure on the Mauritanian government to sort out the situation.”

Laws discriminating against women

In the Middle East a lot of statelessness is the result of laws discriminating against women, which only allow nationality to be passed through the father – a problem if the father is not there to register his child or is himself stateless. Laura van Waas, who runs the Statelessness Programme at Tilburg University, says it can have a devastating effect on all members of a family. 

“It’s not just the stateless child who is affected by this. It’s the mother, who has nationality, who feels guilty for whom she has chosen to marry. Her children are suffering and she sees that as the result of her life choices. And it’s the young men who are perhaps the worst affected. This is seen as a women’s rights issue, but if you are a young women who couldn’t get nationality through your mother, in most of the countries we are looking at you can acquire nationality through your husband, and your children will take his nationality. But if you are a young stateless man, you can’t acquire nationality through marriage, and because your children have to acquire their nationality through you, they will also be stateless.”

In countries like Lebanon, where ID cards were first introduced in the 1920s, but not everyone bothered to register, this kind of statelessness has persisted through several generations, resulting in whole families which, although Lebanese, are non-citizens, unable to travel, and with no access to state schooling or health care. It could be sorted out with a bit of goodwill, but as in many countries, political considerations – in this case questions of religious and ethnic balance – mean goodwill may be in short supply.

Egypt and Kuwait provide further examples.

The Rohingya people are not legally recognized in Myanmar (file photo)

In situations like that of Myanmar, where the government is so reluctant to accept the Muslim community in Rakhine State as Burmese citizens, goodwill seems totally lacking. But elsewhere a lot can be done to reduce statelessness, with improvements to nationality laws, better coordination when states and boundaries change, simpler bureaucratic procedures, and a greater effort to make sure all children get registered.

Attitudes changing?

Manly says he is seeing a real change of attitudes, with governments increasingly willing to ratify the conventions, enter into discussions on the issue and make the necessary changes. 

“The taboo has now been broken,” he says. “Governments now increasingly accept that this is not purely an issue of their sovereign discretion, but that issues of statelessness are of legitimate concern for the international community… Governments have also perceived that it is not in their interests to have a very large disenfranchized and frequently undocumented population in their territories… Ministries of the interior round the world don’t want to have tens or hundreds of thousands of people who are undocumented. They want to know who is in their territory, and to be able to control them.”

“In the past four years, more countries have acceded to the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness than in the four decades following its adoption,” says the new UNHCR report. 

So the UNHCR is hopeful that their campaign can bring down the numbers of stateless people in areas like the Middle East and the Former Soviet Union. 

But Bronwen Manby warns that in parts of Africa where she has worked, a push to regularize citizenship could actually increase numbers elsewhere. “Nigeria, for instance, has a large number of people who are absolutely undocumented, but everybody somehow gets by, because that’s Nigeria. But it’s of concern in the context of increasing efforts to reduce the number of undocumented people for security reasons. Once you really start being strict about ID documents, all the people who have managed to get by with a bit of cash, or a bit of magouille, as they say in French, are going to find it much more difficult to get an ID from somewhere, and I think a problem of statelessness is going to be revealed which is already there but has never been identified.”

eb/cb

100804 2008022736.jpg Analysis Migration An ambitious plan to end statelessness IRIN LONDON Angola Bangladesh Burkina Faso Burundi Benin Botswana DRC Congo, Republic of Côte d’Ivoire Cameroon Colombia Cape Verde Djibouti Egypt Eritrea Ethiopia Gabon Ghana Gambia Guinea Equatorial Guinea Guinea-Bissau Haiti Indonesia Israel Iraq Iran Jordan Kenya Kyrgyzstan Cambodia Kazakhstan Lao Peoples Democratic Republic Lebanon Sri Lanka Liberia Lesotho Libya Madagascar Mali Myanmar Mauritania Mauritius Malawi Mozambique Namibia Niger Nigeria Papua New Guinea Philippines Pakistan Rwanda Seychelles Sudan Sierra Leone Senegal Somalia Sao Tome and Principe Syria Swaziland Chad Togo Thailand Tajikistan Timor-Leste Tunisia Tanzania Uganda United States Uzbekistan Vietnam Samoa Yemen South Africa Zambia Zimbabwe

An ambitious plan to end statelessness

It is now 60 years since stateless people received recognition in international law, and the UN has two conventions (1954 and 1961) dedicated to their protection and the regularization of their situation. Yet an estimated 10 million people worldwide still suffer the problems and indignities of having no nationality.

“It may be a bit of understatement to say that these are the two least loved multilateral human rights treaties,” said Mark Manly, head of the UN Refugee Agency’s (UNHCR) statelessness unit. “For many years they were pretty much forgotten and that was in large part because they had no UN agency promoting them.” 

Manly has responsibility for the issue of statelessness, even though most stateless people neither are, nor have ever been, refugees, and this week UNHCR launched an ambitious plan to try to end statelessness over the next 10 years. 

The plan breaks down the issue into 10 action points, addressing the main reasons why people end up stateless. Sometimes it’s because children were not registered at birth, or because discriminatory laws prevent their mothers from passing on their own nationality. Some are the victims of ethnic discrimination by countries which refuse to recognize members of their community as citizens; others, especially in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, have fallen down the cracks between countries, as it were, after boundaries were redrawn and states divided. 

In some of the world’s major situations of statelessness UNHCR is already involved. In 1989 tens of thousands of Black African Mauritanians fled to Senegal to get away from murderous ethnic persecution. A large number of the refugees who came scrambling across the river border had no papers. Their Mauritanian identity cards had been confiscated or torn up by members of the security forces or by their fellow citizens, who told them, “Tu n’est pas Maure; alors tu n’est pas Mauritanian” (You are not a Moor, an Arab, so you are not a Mauritanian).

Senegalese nationality law is generous, and allows them to apply for citizenship after five years’ residence, but many have preferred to go home to Mauritania, assisted by UNHCR which supplied them with travel documents under an agreement governing their return. But large numbers are now finding themselves effectively stateless. Manly told IRIN: “What that agreement says, if I remember correctly, is that the nationality of the refugees is ‘presumed’ – they are presumed to be Mauritanian. However, many people have faced real problems in getting the documentation to prove that they really are Mauritanian, so there is clearly an issue.” 

“Some 24,000 have returned,” adds Bronwen Manby, a consultant who has worked on this issue. “But the Mauritanian organizations are telling us that only about a third have got their documents. It’s the standard sort of situation,” she told IRIN, “where in principle, of course – but then documents were destroyed, and then they find that the name is Mohamed with one ‘m’ instead of Mohammed with two ‘m’s, and then it’s in French and not in Arabic – there needs to be more pressure on the Mauritanian government to sort out the situation.”

Laws discriminating against women

In the Middle East a lot of statelessness is the result of laws discriminating against women, which only allow nationality to be passed through the father – a problem if the father is not there to register his child or is himself stateless. Laura van Waas, who runs the Statelessness Programme at Tilburg University, says it can have a devastating effect on all members of a family. 

“It’s not just the stateless child who is affected by this. It’s the mother, who has nationality, who feels guilty for whom she has chosen to marry. Her children are suffering and she sees that as the result of her life choices. And it’s the young men who are perhaps the worst affected. This is seen as a women’s rights issue, but if you are a young women who couldn’t get nationality through your mother, in most of the countries we are looking at you can acquire nationality through your husband, and your children will take his nationality. But if you are a young stateless man, you can’t acquire nationality through marriage, and because your children have to acquire their nationality through you, they will also be stateless.”

In countries like Lebanon, where ID cards were first introduced in the 1920s, but not everyone bothered to register, this kind of statelessness has persisted through several generations, resulting in whole families which, although Lebanese, are non-citizens, unable to travel, and with no access to state schooling or health care. It could be sorted out with a bit of goodwill, but as in many countries, political considerations – in this case questions of religious and ethnic balance – mean goodwill may be in short supply.

Egypt and Kuwait provide further examples.

The Rohingya people are not legally recognized in Myanmar (file photo)

In situations like that of Myanmar, where the government is so reluctant to accept the Muslim community in Rakhine State as Burmese citizens, goodwill seems totally lacking. But elsewhere a lot can be done to reduce statelessness, with improvements to nationality laws, better coordination when states and boundaries change, simpler bureaucratic procedures, and a greater effort to make sure all children get registered.

Attitudes changing?

Manly says he is seeing a real change of attitudes, with governments increasingly willing to ratify the conventions, enter into discussions on the issue and make the necessary changes. 

“The taboo has now been broken,” he says. “Governments now increasingly accept that this is not purely an issue of their sovereign discretion, but that issues of statelessness are of legitimate concern for the international community… Governments have also perceived that it is not in their interests to have a very large disenfranchized and frequently undocumented population in their territories… Ministries of the interior round the world don’t want to have tens or hundreds of thousands of people who are undocumented. They want to know who is in their territory, and to be able to control them.”

“In the past four years, more countries have acceded to the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness than in the four decades following its adoption,” says the new UNHCR report. 

So the UNHCR is hopeful that their campaign can bring down the numbers of stateless people in areas like the Middle East and the Former Soviet Union. 

But Bronwen Manby warns that in parts of Africa where she has worked, a push to regularize citizenship could actually increase numbers elsewhere. “Nigeria, for instance, has a large number of people who are absolutely undocumented, but everybody somehow gets by, because that’s Nigeria. But it’s of concern in the context of increasing efforts to reduce the number of undocumented people for security reasons. Once you really start being strict about ID documents, all the people who have managed to get by with a bit of cash, or a bit of magouille, as they say in French, are going to find it much more difficult to get an ID from somewhere, and I think a problem of statelessness is going to be revealed which is already there but has never been identified.”

eb/cb

100804 2008022736.jpg Analysis Migration An ambitious plan to end statelessness IRIN LONDON Angola Bangladesh Burkina Faso Burundi Benin Botswana DRC Congo, Republic of Côte d’Ivoire Cameroon Colombia Cape Verde Djibouti Egypt Eritrea Ethiopia Gabon Ghana Gambia Guinea Equatorial Guinea Guinea-Bissau Haiti Indonesia Israel Iraq Iran Jordan Kenya Kyrgyzstan Cambodia Kazakhstan Lao Peoples Democratic Republic Lebanon Sri Lanka Liberia Lesotho Libya Madagascar Mali Myanmar Mauritania Mauritius Malawi Mozambique Namibia Niger Nigeria Papua New Guinea Philippines Pakistan Rwanda Seychelles Sudan Sierra Leone Senegal Somalia Sao Tome and Principe Syria Swaziland Chad Togo Thailand Tajikistan Timor-Leste Tunisia Tanzania Uganda United States Uzbekistan Vietnam Samoa Yemen South Africa Zambia Zimbabwe

An ambitious plan to end statelessness

It is now 60 years since stateless people received recognition in international law, and the UN has two conventions (1954 and 1961) dedicated to their protection and the regularization of their situation. Yet an estimated 10 million people worldwide still suffer the problems and indignities of having no nationality.

“It may be a bit of understatement to say that these are the two least loved multilateral human rights treaties,” said Mark Manly, head of the UN Refugee Agency’s (UNHCR) statelessness unit. “For many years they were pretty much forgotten and that was in large part because they had no UN agency promoting them.” 

Manly has responsibility for the issue of statelessness, even though most stateless people neither are, nor have ever been, refugees, and this week UNHCR launched an ambitious plan to try to end statelessness over the next 10 years. 

The plan breaks down the issue into 10 action points, addressing the main reasons why people end up stateless. Sometimes it’s because children were not registered at birth, or because discriminatory laws prevent their mothers from passing on their own nationality. Some are the victims of ethnic discrimination by countries which refuse to recognize members of their community as citizens; others, especially in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, have fallen down the cracks between countries, as it were, after boundaries were redrawn and states divided. 

In some of the world’s major situations of statelessness UNHCR is already involved. In 1989 tens of thousands of Black African Mauritanians fled to Senegal to get away from murderous ethnic persecution. A large number of the refugees who came scrambling across the river border had no papers. Their Mauritanian identity cards had been confiscated or torn up by members of the security forces or by their fellow citizens, who told them, “Tu n’est pas Maure; alors tu n’est pas Mauritanian” (You are not a Moor, an Arab, so you are not a Mauritanian).

Senegalese nationality law is generous, and allows them to apply for citizenship after five years’ residence, but many have preferred to go home to Mauritania, assisted by UNHCR which supplied them with travel documents under an agreement governing their return. But large numbers are now finding themselves effectively stateless. Manly told IRIN: “What that agreement says, if I remember correctly, is that the nationality of the refugees is ‘presumed’ – they are presumed to be Mauritanian. However, many people have faced real problems in getting the documentation to prove that they really are Mauritanian, so there is clearly an issue.” 

“Some 24,000 have returned,” adds Bronwen Manby, a consultant who has worked on this issue. “But the Mauritanian organizations are telling us that only about a third have got their documents. It’s the standard sort of situation,” she told IRIN, “where in principle, of course – but then documents were destroyed, and then they find that the name is Mohamed with one ‘m’ instead of Mohammed with two ‘m’s, and then it’s in French and not in Arabic – there needs to be more pressure on the Mauritanian government to sort out the situation.”

Laws discriminating against women

In the Middle East a lot of statelessness is the result of laws discriminating against women, which only allow nationality to be passed through the father – a problem if the father is not there to register his child or is himself stateless. Laura van Waas, who runs the Statelessness Programme at Tilburg University, says it can have a devastating effect on all members of a family. 

“It’s not just the stateless child who is affected by this. It’s the mother, who has nationality, who feels guilty for whom she has chosen to marry. Her children are suffering and she sees that as the result of her life choices. And it’s the young men who are perhaps the worst affected. This is seen as a women’s rights issue, but if you are a young women who couldn’t get nationality through your mother, in most of the countries we are looking at you can acquire nationality through your husband, and your children will take his nationality. But if you are a young stateless man, you can’t acquire nationality through marriage, and because your children have to acquire their nationality through you, they will also be stateless.”

In countries like Lebanon, where ID cards were first introduced in the 1920s, but not everyone bothered to register, this kind of statelessness has persisted through several generations, resulting in whole families which, although Lebanese, are non-citizens, unable to travel, and with no access to state schooling or health care. It could be sorted out with a bit of goodwill, but as in many countries, political considerations – in this case questions of religious and ethnic balance – mean goodwill may be in short supply.

Egypt and Kuwait provide further examples.

The Rohingya people are not legally recognized in Myanmar (file photo)

In situations like that of Myanmar, where the government is so reluctant to accept the Muslim community in Rakhine State as Burmese citizens, goodwill seems totally lacking. But elsewhere a lot can be done to reduce statelessness, with improvements to nationality laws, better coordination when states and boundaries change, simpler bureaucratic procedures, and a greater effort to make sure all children get registered.

Attitudes changing?

Manly says he is seeing a real change of attitudes, with governments increasingly willing to ratify the conventions, enter into discussions on the issue and make the necessary changes. 

“The taboo has now been broken,” he says. “Governments now increasingly accept that this is not purely an issue of their sovereign discretion, but that issues of statelessness are of legitimate concern for the international community… Governments have also perceived that it is not in their interests to have a very large disenfranchized and frequently undocumented population in their territories… Ministries of the interior round the world don’t want to have tens or hundreds of thousands of people who are undocumented. They want to know who is in their territory, and to be able to control them.”

“In the past four years, more countries have acceded to the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness than in the four decades following its adoption,” says the new UNHCR report. 

So the UNHCR is hopeful that their campaign can bring down the numbers of stateless people in areas like the Middle East and the Former Soviet Union. 

But Bronwen Manby warns that in parts of Africa where she has worked, a push to regularize citizenship could actually increase numbers elsewhere. “Nigeria, for instance, has a large number of people who are absolutely undocumented, but everybody somehow gets by, because that’s Nigeria. But it’s of concern in the context of increasing efforts to reduce the number of undocumented people for security reasons. Once you really start being strict about ID documents, all the people who have managed to get by with a bit of cash, or a bit of magouille, as they say in French, are going to find it much more difficult to get an ID from somewhere, and I think a problem of statelessness is going to be revealed which is already there but has never been identified.”

eb/cb

100804 2008022736.jpg Analysis Migration An ambitious plan to end statelessness IRIN LONDON Angola Bangladesh Burkina Faso Burundi Benin Botswana DRC Congo, Republic of Côte d’Ivoire Cameroon Colombia Cape Verde Djibouti Egypt Eritrea Ethiopia Gabon Ghana Gambia Guinea Equatorial Guinea Guinea-Bissau Haiti Indonesia Israel Iraq Iran Jordan Kenya Kyrgyzstan Cambodia Kazakhstan Lao Peoples Democratic Republic Lebanon Sri Lanka Liberia Lesotho Libya Madagascar Mali Myanmar Mauritania Mauritius Malawi Mozambique Namibia Niger Nigeria Papua New Guinea Philippines Pakistan Rwanda Seychelles Sudan Sierra Leone Senegal Somalia Sao Tome and Principe Syria Swaziland Chad Togo Thailand Tajikistan Timor-Leste Tunisia Tanzania Uganda United States Uzbekistan Vietnam Samoa Yemen South Africa Zambia Zimbabwe