Launched today: the European Network on Statelessness
Guest post by Chris Nash. Chris is International Protection Policy Coordinator at Asylum Aid. Chris previously practiced as an asylum lawyer, and has worked on asylum and migration policy at Amnesty International and at the European Council of Refugees and Exiles. His current role includes acting as Coordinator of the European Network on Statelessness.
By legal definition, stateless people are those who are not considered nationals of any state under the operation of its law. In the words of Thomas Hammarberg, the former Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, stateless people are “legal ghosts”, trapped in limbo and too seldom able to access their basic rights; campaigner and photographer Greg Constantine refers to ‘nowhere people’.
It is estimated that there are over 600,000 stateless persons in Europe today. Statelessness occurs among both recent migrants and people who have lived in the same place for generations. Stateless people often come into contact with asylum systems across Europe. In the Balkans and elsewhere many Roma remain stateless as a result of ethnic discrimination. Statelessness is a continuing reminder of the fall-out from the break-up of the Soviet Union.
Statelessness is a significant problem. So in some respects it is surprising that most European countries have no framework for tackling the problem or the root causes.
But 2011 ended with an encouraging call to arms for civil society. António Guterres, the UN Commissioner for Refugees, hailed a “quantum leap” in global efforts to tackle statelessness, and signalled an opportune moment for coordinating and strengthening contributions to help this effort. It was with this objective already in mind that a conversation started in the middle of last year between a small group of organisations: Asylum Aid, the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, the Open Society Justice Initiative, the Equal Rights Trust, Praxis, and the Tilburg Statelessness Programme. And that initial conversation has resulted in today’s launch of the European Network on Statelessness (ENS).
Things developed quickly. Bound by the realisation that statelessness requires an effective, coordinated response across Europe, our organisations formed a steering committee to put in place solid foundations from which to work, and then finalised an activity plan during meetings in London and Tilburg earlier this year.
We hope that the information and resources pooled on our website will act as the hub for our broader objective, to work with others to raise awareness of a hidden issue and invite active participation in the network. Briefing events are planned in Brussels and Geneva next month, at which we hope that the pool of thematic and country experts working with ENS will grow. This is how we will ensure real impact.
Given that statelessness is presently so little understood by government and civil actors alike, there is also a compelling need for awareness-raising, training and provision of expert advice. ENS stands ready to provide this.
This journey has only just started. Thomas Hammarberg also said of stateless people: “many victims have little possibility themselves to be heard, and in many cases are silenced by their fear of further discrimination”. Acutely aware of this phenomenon, ENS is dedicated to strengthening the often unheard voice of stateless persons in Europe and to advocate for full respect of their human rights. We hope that ENS can make a real difference in tackling statelessness, and helping to bring Europe’s “legal ghosts” out of the shadows.
The European Network on Statelessness is open to NGOs, research centres, academics and other individuals who wish to apply for associate membership. For further information contact ENS Coordinator Chris Nash at email@example.com or visit our website at www.statelessness.eu
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