UN body calls to end fear of statelessness in Assam

Reuters file photo

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on Monday called for urgent solutions for millions facing the risk of statelessness, including those in Assam and the Rohingyas in Myanmar.

"Solutions are urgently needed for millions without citizenship or at risk of statelessness around the world - including Myanmar’s Rohingya, and minority populations at risk of statelessness in India’s Assam. Without these, we risk a deepening of the exclusion that already affects the lives of millions of people. This is why a redoubling of efforts has become crucially needed," the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi said in a statement ahead of the opening of UNHCR’s annual Executive Committee meeting in Geneva.

Over 19 lakh residents in Assam have been left out of the National Register of Citizens (NRC), being updated in Assam to segregate Indian citizens from "foreigners illegally living in the state bordering Bangladesh." Similarly, several lakhs of Rohingyas also face the threat of statelessness since they fled to neighbouring Bangladesh to avoid ethnic riots in Myanmar.

Grandi warned that recent advances in the battle to end statelessness - a leading cause of human rights deprivation for millions of people worldwide – were being imperiled by a rise in damaging forms of nationalism.

Grandi said that the growing number of countries taking action against statelessness meant the international community was nearing a point of critical mass in its efforts to stamp out statelessness for good.

“And yet the progress is far from assured: damaging forms of nationalism, and the manipulation of anti-refugee and migrant sentiment – these are powerful currents internationally that risk putting progress into reverse.

The UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, launched a global ‘#IBelong’ Campaign in 2014 aimed at ending statelessness by 2024. Since then some 15 countries have newly acceded to the two major treaties on statelessness, the 1954 UN Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, and the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness. With additional accessions and other commitments expected this week, total accessions to the first of these treaties, the 1954 Convention on the Status of Stateless Persons, could soon exceed the notable threshold of 100 countries.

In the first five years of the Campaign, more than 220,000 stateless people have now acquired a nationality, including as a result of concerted national efforts that have been motivated by the Campaign, in places as diverse as Kyrgyzstan and Kenya, Tajikistan and Thailand. In July of this year, Kyrgyzstan became the first country in the world to announce the complete resolution of all known cases of statelessness.

In addition, since the Campaign was launched two countries, Madagascar and Sierra Leone, reformed their nationality laws to allow mothers to confer citizenship on their children on an equal footing with fathers. However, twenty-five countries continue to make it difficult or impossible for mothers to confer citizenship on their children, one of the leading causes of statelessness globally. As not all nationality laws contain safeguards that ensure that no child is born stateless, statelessness can also be passed down from generation to generation, said the statement.

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