JUBA, 03 February 2016 (UNHCR) — Chol Jacob was among half a million men, women and children who are at risk of becoming stateless in South Sudan, according to a UNHCR survey.
Many have difficulty proving their links to South Sudan since the secession from Sudan in 2011, particularly those who were born in Sudan before South Sudan’s independence. They had no means to get identity and nationality documents or were ignorant about how important it was to be able to prove their nationality.
« I always feared I could be arrested or detained because I had no documents to prove my identity and nationality, » said Jacob. « I could not afford paying for all the documents necessary to get a national identity card. »
After attaining his diploma, the 24 year old avoided venturing into Juba city centre to apply for a job for nearly two years. He had found shelter in a collective centre for internally displaced people (IDP) in Mahad, in the outskirts of South Sudan’s capital after he was forced to leave his home in Jonglei state when the conflict broke out in December 2013.
Jacob found renewed hope when UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and South Sudan’s Directorate of Nationality, Passport and Immigration (DNPI) launched the third in a series of campaigns in mid-December 2015 to document IDP lacking identity documents in key locations in South Sudan.
This initiative is part of a broader project designed to reduce the risk of statelessness in South Sudan and help people like Jacob reclaim their nationality. Launched in June 2013, this project has helped so far more than 9,000 people across South Sudan prove their origin.
« I am excited. At the moment, I can travel wherever I want and I can go apply for jobs », said Jacob.
National identification is a requirement for South Sudanese nationals to access public services and to find jobs in both the public and private sector, and for students to gain access to government scholarships.
DNPI’s Project Coordinator Kuol Akon said the campaign was a « milestone » in addressing South Sudan’s statelessness. « This is the second fruit of this project in Juba. We still have a long way to go to achieve our objectives, but we will work together to make it happen, » Akon added. The citizenship national ID cards allow the holders to claim and exercise their rights as foreseen in the national constitution.
« You can seek services and employment anywhere with these cards without discrimination. If you have your national ID card and wish to travel abroad, you can apply for a passport, » Akon said.
UNHCR has so far invested USD 200,000 to support DNPI in identifying and issuing identity documents to persons at risk of statelessness, in addition to providing DNPI staff with technical expertise. â€œIt is a key intervention to help vulnerable people like Jacob enjoy the same rights as other fellow citizens,â€ said Richard Lou, UNHCR Protection Officer who leads the project in Juba.
South Sudan has more than 1.6 million internally displaced people and another 263,000 refugees from neighboring countries. UNHCR works with the government to protect and assist refugees and persons at risk of statelessness and is part of the multi-agency response to internally displaced people, as lead of the Protection Cluster.
By Richard Ruati in Juba