On 8-9 June, the European Network on Statelessness hosted the regional conference “Addressing Statelessness in Europe” in Madrid. Delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the event fulfilled an important pledge made by the Network at the Global Refugee Forum in 2019.
Bringing together over 200 participants from 34 countries, including government representatives, stateless campaigners, lawyers, academics, and civil society actors, the conference aimed to better understand and address protection gaps currently experienced by stateless people in Europe. With over 500,000 stateless people across the region, who face exclusion from national systems such as healthcare and education, restrictions on their freedom of movement, discrimination, and violation of their fundamental rights, finding a solution to ending statelessness on the continent is vital.
Throughout the conference, three key lessons arose in discussions. Firstly, lived experience must shape solutions to statelessness. Calls for the meaningful engagement and participation of stateless people, refugees, and others who are forcibly displaced have been growing over recent years, with a greater understanding that their knowledge of needs and challenges is vital for adequately addressing situations and finding solutions. While much more work needs to be done on the issue, recognition of the dearth of their voices, and the negative impacts of this, are key to driving this change and realising the principle of “nothing about us, without us”.
The second learning was that statelessness is an intersectional issue and must be addressed as such. Sessions at the conference covered topics including LGBTIQ+ rights, children, minorities, and the impact of climate change, and how these relate to statelessness. By bringing together experts working on cross-cutting issues, the conference provided an opportunity to find solutions through the interconnectedness of their work.
Finally, as well as the action already being taken by different stakeholder groups, the commitment of key mandate-holders is essential to progress. Among the attendees at the conference were high-level representatives of governments, the European Union, Council of Europe, and UNHCR, who all made commitments to take action within their respective mandates to find solutions for identifying and protecting stateless people and ensuring they can all acquire a nationality.
One of the key aims of the conference was to encourage attendees to make new pledges to tackle statelessness. Many of them made commitments, among which was the pledge from the Government of Spain to address the issue during its presidency of the EU – which it holds until the end of 2023 – including with regard to negotiations of the EU Migration and Asylum Pact. The European Parliament committed to continue to advocate for statelessness to be addressed as an EU issue, urging Member States to take action to protect stateless people. The Council of Europe pledged to prepare guidance on child-sensitive procedures for stateless children. Wider commitments were made by a number of stakeholders to address the mental health impacts of statelessness, take action to better resource work on the subject, and to address the impacts of climate change and their links to statelessness.
An outcomes report for the conference, detailing the key lessons and commitments made by attendees, is available online, as is a blog about the event, written by Chris Nash, Director of European Network on Statelessness.
Despite a three-year delay due to a global pandemic, the Network’s determination to fulfil this pledge is inspiring.
All stakeholders are encouraged to continue submitting updates on the progress of their pledges made towards implementing the GCR, and to make new pledges ahead of the Global Refugee Forum 2023.
Images and video © European Network on Statelessness