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What is your citizenship? Unknown
Thursday 22, December 2011
BUDAPEST, December 22 (UNHCR) – "Mother and father Congolese, the citizenship of the child unknown," reads the nationality row of the birth certificate of Glody. The three-month-old boy is one of those children born to refugee parents in Hungary and so registered with unknown citizenship.
"I feel being at a loss... no one can tell me what it means, but a word like "unknown" never means good," said Glody's father, 37-year-old Leon Mukaba while holding his youngest son sleeping peacefully in his lap.
Leon fled his home in the Democratic Republic of the Congo some four years ago after falling of foul of the authorities due to his political views. After he was granted refugee status in Hungary, his wife Celine and three children could follow him through the family reunification programme two years later.
Since then, Glody was born and the family of six is building a new life in the capital Budapest. Together, they wrestle with puzzles of Hungarian widely believed to be one of the most difficult languages to learn. Leon works shifts in a warehouse, while Céline looks after the baby and the home front – picking up the older children from public school, and sorting out various papers and documents required for receiving medical care, family allowance, paying the rent and the public utility costs, in their new home.
But the documents of their fourth child, Glody, who was born in Hungary in September 2011 declare him a citizen of no country. And for the moment, he is caught in a catch-22 situation. According to the current regulation in Hungary, the foreign citizenship of a child must be proven at birth by papers, a passport, an ID or a certificate issued by the home country. Otherwise, the citizenship must be registered as "unknown."
But refugees who had to flee their homeland cannot simply contact authorities to request documents. This could put their lives in danger or even lead to the loss of refugee status for it implies they do not need protection from their home country's authorities. However, without the written proof, the local authorities do not register new-borns with their citizenship.
These children are caught in a trap and a legal limbo.
"The well-being of children without citizenship is seriously at risk as without a legal bond with the state, they could be denied basic rights and services -- including access to education and health care," said Ágnes Ambrus, UNHCR's Protection Officer for Hungary.
Some two months after his birth, Glody has been granted refugee status, based on family unity that ensures him the same rights Hungarian children have, with a few exceptions.
But while refugee status may seem the solution, it is not a lasting one.
"The refugee status in itself is not a durable solution," said Ambrus. "No child should remain without a nationality."
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child both spell out everyone's right to a nationality. "Ideally, children should receive the nationality of their parents to keep the homogeneity of the family, as the nationality laws of the countries of origin of most refugees also foresee", Ambrus said. "However, some refugee families may never be able to return home, and in those cases, the current best interest of the child would be the citizenship of the host country as opposed to no citizenship," she added.
Ambrus believes a good solution would be to consider every child born to refugee parents in Hungary a citizen from birth, until they can access the citizenship of their parents.
Meanwhile, Leon is studying hard to pass the Hungarian citizenship exam testing him on the country's politics, history and literature both orally and in writing, all in Hungarian. After at least three years of stay, recognized refugees can apply for citizenship in Hungary. If Leon passes the test, through him all his family can be naturalized.
For Glody, this is the only ray of hope to acquire a citizenship in the foreseeable future. If his father fails, his citizenship remains "unknown" and may do so for years.
"My favourite topic is the one on popular vote because I think that is important for a country," the Congolese-born Leon said excitedly while showing the list of the exam questions.
The optimistic Leon attends an exam preparation class every Thursday evening. He pulls out the Hungarian dictionary from a pile of books on his table to quickly look up the pronunciation of the word 'hope'.
"We are waiting now and we hope, the only thing we can do," he concluded.
By Eva Hegedus in Budapest, Hungary