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UNHCR lauds Philippines for landmark mechanism to protect refugees and the stateless

News Stories, 6 November 2012

© UNHCR/F.T.Temprosa
Philippine government representatives and partners assess the protection needs of people at risk of statelessness in Lapu village, South Cotabato.

MANILA, Philippines, November 6 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency on Tuesday hailed the Philippines for being the first country in the Asia-Pacific region to establish a procedure to protect both refugees and stateless people.

The Department of Justice of the Philippines recently published a circular that enhanced its current system of determining refugee status and put in place a procedure to ascertain whether a person is stateless. The new procedure takes effect today and is an important step to ensure the Philippines meets its obligations under the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, which it ratified last year, the first ASEAN (Association of South-east Asian Nations) member state to do so.

The new mechanism is a testament to the genuine humanitarian spirit in the Philippines, said Bernard Kerblat, UNHCR's representative in the Philippines. This unified approach provides the widest possible protection net for refugees and the stateless in the most effective way.

Refugees and stateless people are protected under Philippine law. With the new procedure, there is a way to unify refugees with extended family members such as grandparents. Asylum-seekers have the right to a lawyer and interpreter during the process, and they cannot be deported while undergoing the procedure, ensuring respect for international law.

Other safeguards to protect asylum-seekers and refugees were integrated in the procedure, such as special measures for unaccompanied children. "The refugees and stateless people are the most vulnerable," Philippine Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said in a statement. "They fall easily through the cracks of our system. Consider the challenge of having no government to safeguard your rights. You have no government that will ensure yours and your family's physical security," she added.

The procedure to ascertain if a person is stateless adopted key recommendations of UNHCR. Focusing on stateless migrants, the procedure allows applications to be made regardless of immigration status, and guarantees the right to an interview, lawyer and interpreter. It shares common features with the refugee process.

The 1954 Statelessness Convention establishes a legal status for stateless people to ensure that they can live in safety and dignity until they acquire a nationality. It is particularly useful for addressing the situation of stateless migrants who might otherwise be bounced from one country to another and end up in long-term detention or destitution.

The Philippines became the first state in the region to create such a mechanism, joining Moldova and Georgia as the third in the world to fulfill its pledge, made during a meeting of states last year, to establish a statelessness determination procedure.

The government also formed a unit dedicated to protecting both refugees and stateless people with its own budget resources and allowing it to coordinate with agencies to reduce and prevent statelessness. A former group handled asylum claims only.

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UN Conventions on Statelessness

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

State Action on Statelessness

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Stateless People

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

Statelessness Around the World

At least 10 million people in the world today are stateless. They are told that they don't belong anywhere. They are denied a nationality. And without one, they are denied their basic rights. From the moment they are born they are deprived of not only citizenship but, in many cases, even documentation of their birth. Many struggle throughout their lives with limited or no access to education, health care, employment, freedom of movement or sense of security. Many are unable to marry, while some people choose not to have children just to avoid passing on the stigma of statelessness. Even at the end of their lives, many stateless people are denied the dignity of a death certificate and proper burial.

The human impact of statelessness is tremendous. Generations and entire communities can be affected. But, with political will, statelessness is relatively easy to resolve. Thanks to government action, more than 4 million stateless people acquired a nationality between 2003 and 2013 or had their nationality confirmed. Between 2004 and 2014, twelve countries took steps to remove gender discrimination from their nationality laws - action that is vital to ensuring children are not left stateless if their fathers are stateless or unable to confer their nationality. Between 2011 and 2014, there were 42 accessions to the two statelessness conventions - indication of a growing consensus on the need to tackle statelessness. UNHCR's 10-year Campaign to End Statelessness seeks to give impetus to this. The campaign calls on states to take 10 actions that would bring a definitive end to this problem and the suffering it causes.

These images are available for use only to illustrate articles related to UNHCR statelessness campaign. They are not available for archiving, resale, redistribution, syndication or third party licensing, but only for one-time print/online usage. All images must be properly credited UNHCR/photographer's name

Statelessness Around the World

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 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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