The European Network on Statelessness #HearItFromUs Project

The European Network on Statelessness #HearItFromUs Project

According to official statistics, nearly 100,000 asylum seekers who arrived in the EU between 2015 and 2018 were recorded as ‘stateless’ or of ‘unknown nationality’. However, the issue of statelessness has been missing from European debates and policy responses on asylum and migration, and the voices of stateless people are mostly absent. Being stateless is often critical when navigating European asylum procedures and can affect many aspects of a refugee’s experience, from increased time spent in reception centres to delayed decision-making and additional barriers to integration.

In 2018, the European Network on Statelessness launched a one-year pilot called #HearItFromUs, which sought to promote the voices and views of stateless refugees and migrants in the migration debate. We worked closely with our members Consonant, Fundación Cepaim and New Women Connectors to bring together representatives of communities affected by statelessness in the Netherlands, Spain and the UK. This work culminated in three community workshops in May and June 2019, where we discussed the key issues affecting stateless people and co-developed ideas to strengthen our collaboration.

The workshops made clear that, while all countries have unique approaches to statelessness (see our Statelessness INDEX), members of stateless communities face similar problems in the three countries, including barriers to accessing basic rights such as work and healthcare and the negative impact of statelessness on mental health. Participants also noted barriers to accessing legal procedures and obtaining citizenship, and discussed authorities’ perceived lack of understanding and awareness about statelessness.

The pilot project provided central lessons for collaborating with stateless people. The workshop participants’ enthusiasm to work together on statelessness was clear and build relationships with communities is crucial, but may first require overcoming various obstacles. Members of these communities can be reluctant to work with unfamiliar NGOs or to identify as ‘stateless’. The lack of dedicated support for community-led organisations – many of whom rely on volunteers – also presents a barrier to ensuring that stateless people can engage on statelessness and in wider debates. For collaboration with stateless people to be sustainable and effective, dedicated time, skills and resources are necessary, as well as a commitment to ensuring that the views of women, LGBTQI+, youth and others are heard to represent the diversity of people affected by statelessness.

The first twelve months of the pilot have laid the groundwork to continue improving the representation of stateless refugees and migrants. Last October, we were joined at the UNHCR’s High-Level Segment on Statelessness in Geneva by Nijam Uddin Mohammed, General Secretary of the British Rohingya Community and one of our newest British members. His intervention at our civil society side event, and the awareness-raising work of stateless activists like Lynn Khatib proves that the experiences and voices of stateless people can no longer be ignored. We will continue to provide information about statelessness to those affected, and at our Annual General Conference in May 2020, we will bring together community representatives and stateless activists from across Europe. We hope that this way of working with communities will bring Europe closer to our vision of a place where all stateless people can access their rights, and all states have legal frameworks
in place to protect stateless people and prevent new cases of statelessness from arising.

Article written by Khadija Badri, Advocacy and Engagement Officer, European Network on Statelessness