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UNHCR welcomes Georgia's accession to the 1954 Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons

Press Releases, 29 December 2011

GENEVA The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) welcomes the decision of Georgia to accede to the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons. The instruments of accession were deposited at the UN in New York on 23 December and the Convention will enter into force in Georgia on 22 March next year.

In addition to becoming the most recent state-party to the 1954 convention, Georgia is also one of the first to implement its pledges towards the prevention and reduction of statelessness that the country had made at UNHCR's Ministerial Conference in Geneva on 7 and 8 December. The conference was the culmination of UNHCR's political and diplomatic efforts to rally renewed support and commitments for the fundamental legal treaties enabling the UN refugee agency to provide protection and assistance to refugees and stateless people worldwide.

In 2011, a total of eight countries deposited their instruments of accession or ratification to one or other of the two UN statelessness conventions, setting a new record of accessions in one year. Another 24 countries made commitments at ministerial meeting in relation to ratification of the statelessness conventions.

"By acceding to the 1954 UN Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons Georgia is joining the international community of good practice in its efforts to ensure that the rights of stateless persons are respected," said Simone Wolken UNHCR Representative in Georgia. "This is a milestone in the broader agenda of Georgia to demonstrate international best practices and to ensure the enjoyment of rights of all persons living in Georgia. UNHCR sincerely congratulates Georgia on this achievement and stands ready to support the Government in its implementation of this Convention," she added.

Accession to the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons will allow the Georgian government to define statelessness under national law, establish statelessness determination procedures to grant a status that would respect the rights and establish the responsibilities of stateless persons in Georgia.

According to the official statistics as of September 2011, some 1,600 stateless people have been identified and registered by the Georgian authorities. A significant group of people in Georgia, estimated at approximately 4,000 remain at risk of statelessness.

Achieving an increased number of states parties to the UN Statelessness Conventions is key to addressing statelessness, a problem which affects up to 12 million people around the world.

The 1954 convention, which now has 71 parties, establishes minimum standards of treatment for stateless persons and is designed to ensure that they are not left in legal limbo. The 1961 convention, which now has 42 state parties, is designed to prevent statelessness from occurring and thereby reduce it over time, mainly by requiring that states put in place safeguards in nationality laws such by requiring that people cannot renounce their nationality without first having acquired another.

The UN refugee agency will continue advocacy for Georgia to accede to 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, to reduce statelessness in the country and introduce changes in national legislation that reflects international standards.

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UNHCR country pages

State Action on Statelessness

Action taken by states, including follow-up on pledges made at UNHCR's 2011 ministerial meeting in Geneva.

UN Conventions on Statelessness

The two UN statelessness conventions are the key legal instruments in the protection of stateless people around the world.

Stateless People

Millions of stateless people are left in a legal limbo, with limited basic rights.

Statelessness in Kyrgyzstan

Two decades after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, thousands of people in former Soviet republics like Kyrgyzstan are still facing problems with citizenship. UNHCR has identified more than 20,000 stateless people in the Central Asian nation. These people are not considered as nationals under the laws of any country. While many in principle fall under the Kyrgyz citizenship law, they have not been confirmed as nationals under the existing procedures.

Most of the stateless people in Kyrgyzstan have lived there for many years, have close family links in the country and are culturally and socially well-integrated. But because they lack citizenship documents, these folk are often unable to do the things that most people take for granted, including registering a marriage or the birth of a child, travelling within Kyrgyzstan and overseas, receiving pensions or social allowances or owning property. The stateless are more vulnerable to economic hardship, prone to higher unemployment and do not enjoy full access to education and medical services.

Since independence in 1991, Kyrgyzstan has taken many positive steps to reduce and prevent statelessness. And UNHCR, under its statelessness mandate, has been assisting the country by providing advice on legislation and practices as well as giving technical assistance to those charged with solving citizenship problems. The refugee agency's NGO partners provide legal counselling to stateless people and assist them in their applications for citizenship.

However, statelessness in Kyrgyzstan is complex and thousands of people, mainly women and children, still face legal, administrative and financial hurdles when seeking to confirm or acquire citizenship. In 2009, with the encouragement of UNHCR, the government adopted a national action plan to prevent and reduce statelessness. In 2011, the refugee agency will help revise the plan and take concrete steps to implement it. A concerted effort by all stakeholders is needed so that statelessness does not become a lingering problem for future generations.

Statelessness in Kyrgyzstan

Statelessness in Sri Lanka: Hill Tamils

Most of the people working on the hundreds of tea plantations that dot Sri Lanka's picturesque hill country are descended from ethnic Tamils brought from India between 1820 and 1840 when the island was under British colonial rule. Although these people, known as "Hill Tamils," have been making an invaluable contribution to Sri Lanka's economy for almost two centuries, up until recently the country's stringent citizenship laws made it next to impossible for them to berecognized as citizens. Without the proper documents they could not vote, hold a government job, open a bank account or travel freely.

The Hill Tamils have been the subject of a number of bilateral agreements in the past giving them the option between Sri Lankan and Indian citizenship. But in 2003, there were still an estimated 300,000 stateless people of Indian origin living in Sri Lanka.

Things improved markedly, in October 2003, after the Sri Lankan parliament passed the "Grant of Citizenship to People of Indian Origin Act," which gave nationality to people who had lived in Sri Lanka since 1964 and to their descendants. UNHCR, the government of Sri Lanka and local organizations ran an information campaign informing Hill Tamils about the law and the procedures for acquiring citizenship. With more than 190,000 of the stateless people in Sri Lanka receiving citizenship over a 10-day period in late 2003, this was heralded as a huge success story in the global effort to reduce statelessness.

Also, in 2009, the parliament passed amendments to existing regulations, granting citizenship to refugees who fled Sri Lanka's conflict and are living in camps in India. This makes it easier for them to return to Sri Lanka if they so wish to.

Statelessness in Sri Lanka: Hill Tamils

Statelessness in the Dominican Republic

In the Dominican Republic, UNHCR runs programmes that benefit refugees and asylum-seekers from Haiti as well as migrants and members of their family born in the country, some of whom could be stateless or at risk of becoming stateless. Many live in bateyes, which are destitute communities on once thriving sugar cane plantations. The inhabitants have been crossing over from Haiti for decades to work in the sugar trade.

Among these initiatives, UNHCR provides legal aid, academic remedial courses and vocational training for refugees and asylum-seekers. They also support entrepreneurial initiatives and access to micro credit.

UNHCR also has an increased presence in border communities in order to promote peaceful coexistence between Dominican and Haitian populations. The UN refugee agency has found that strengthening the agricultural production capacities of both groups promotes integration and mitigates tension.

Many Haitians and Dominicans living in the dilapidated bateyes are at risk of statelessness. Stateless people are not considered as nationals by any country. This can result in them having trouble accessing and exercising basic rights, including education and medical care as well as employment, travel and housing. UNHCR aims to combat statelessness by facilitating the issuance of birth certificates for people living in the bateyes.

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