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UNHCR launches campaign to combat statelessness
Thursday 25, August 2011
Governments urged to sign international treaties and amend national laws
PRESS RELEASE – BUDAPEST, August 25 (UNHCR) – UNHCR today urged Central European governments to sign on to international conventions on statelessness and amend national laws in line with international standards, as the agency launched a global campaign to combat the problem. The campaign launch comes just days before the 50th anniversary of the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness on August 30, 2011.
Around the world today there are millions of people who are not recognized as citizens of any country. On paper they don't exist anywhere. They are people without a nationality. They are stateless.
"In Central Europe, the stateless problem may not be huge in terms of numbers but for those caught in this legal limbo the human consequences are dramatic," said UNHCR's Regional Representative for Central Europe Mr Gottfried Koefner.
Because stateless people are technically not citizens of any country, they are often denied basic rights and access to employment, housing, education, and health care. They may not be able to own property, open a bank account, get married legally, or register the birth of a child.
State dissolution and the formation of new states is one of several causes of statelessness in the world today. In the 1990s, the break-up of the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, and Czechoslovakia left hundreds of thousands throughout Eastern Europe and Central Asia stateless. While most cases of statelessness have been resolved in these regions, tens of thousands of people remain without a nationality or at risk of becoming stateless.
In Central Europe, there are stranded people from neighboring countries and further afield who have fallen through the cracks of various national laws. While exact numbers are unknown, there are several thousand people recorded as stateless in the region.
"Hungary is leading the way in Central Europe in taking action to reduce statelessness. It has ratified both UN treaties and put in place a system to recognize stateless people and issue documents to help them access health, education and other services," said Koefner. Hungary has been assessing stateless applications for four years and has recognized 71 people since 2007.
More broadly, there is a mixed picture on action to reduce statelessness in Central Europe. Poland and Bulgaria are yet to sign the 1954 Convention on the Status of Stateless Persons and the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness. Slovenia has signed the former, but not the latter. Hungary, the Czech Republic, the Slovak Republic and Romania have signed both treaties but governments have either made significant reservations or are yet to put in place procedures ensuring the safeguards operate at the national level.
'Even in Hungary which has made great strides to tackle the issue, there is little awareness at various levels of government. Recognized stateless people with documents can have difficulty receiving help because local officials don't know about their status and the rights they have," Koefner said.
"The Hungarian procedure also excludes people who do not already have legal residence in the country which is out of kilter with international standards and could leave genuinely stateless people falling through the cracks," he added.
UNHCR is calling for governments in the region to register stateless people in the countries where they live, to establish open and non-restrictive procedures to
reduce and prevent statelessness, and to ensure birth registration systems meet international standards.
"Statelessness is a small but manageable issue for governments in Central Europe. This 50th anniversary year of the 1961 convention is an opportune time to sign up to the relevant international treaties and fill gaps in national laws to prevent the problem worsening in the future," Koefner concluded.
UNHCR estimates there are about 12 million stateless people around the world, but defining exact numbers is problematic due to inconsistent reporting and
different definitions of statelessness. With its global campaign, UNHCR aims to raise awareness on the issue, encourage states to accede to the two stateless conventions, reform nationality laws and take additional measures to end statelessness.
For more information on statelessness and refugees in Central Europe visit www.unhcr-centraleurope.org.
For more information on UNHCR's global campaign, including downloadable photos, interviews and videos visit www.unhcr.org/stateless.
Media contacts: Ariane Rummery +36 30 530 9633, Zoltan Toth +36 20 249 9986