‘Foreigners everywhere, nationals nowhere’: Southern Africa’s changing response to UN campaign on statelessness
By Emmanuelle Mitte, UNHCR
Statelessness, once a ‘forgotten human rights crisis’, has been put at the forefront of a global agenda with the UN’s #Ibelong campaign. Among the most tragic victims of statelessness are children found abandoned in a state and who, in most Southern African states, would as a result never have any nationality. Condemned to a life in a limbo that extends even to their adult years, and that may even be inherited by their children, these stateless persons illustrate how essential the right to nationality is to every person. But that is just one of many problems associated with statelessness. Here, Emmanuelle Mitte, UNHCR expert on the subject, explains the background and shares some encouraging news: most Southern African states that once simply ignored the problem, have now begun to join the movement to end statelessness.
In the aftermath of World War II, hundreds of thousands of individuals found themselves stateless in a shattered Europe. During 1949, the newly established United Nations reported on their plight and noted that the international community lacked the resources to assist – “the stateless person is an anomaly (…), he is in an inferior position which reduces his social values and destroys his own confidence” – and concluded that stateless persons are compelled to “live outside the law and are left at the mercy of the authorities”.
As a problem, statelessness was not limited to Europe, however. The international community soon realised it was a global phenomenon and, in 1974, the UN General Assembly mandated the UNHCR to address statelessness.
In 2014, 60 years after the first UN report on statelessness, Antonio Guterres, then High Commissioner for Refugees, declared that statelessness was one of the most neglected areas of the global human rights agenda, a forgotten human rights crisis. In order to give more visibility to this issue and find concrete solutions, he launched a 10-year campaign, the #IBelong campaign, with the ambitious objective of eradicating statelessness in a decade.