Statelessness and Citizenship in the Horn of Africa

Published: 22/Dec/2021
Source: UNHCR

By Bronwen Manby

Extract from Summary:

The categories of people at risk of statelessness in the Horn of Africa are not dissimilar to those in other parts of the African continent. The first category is the most widely dispersed; that of vulnerable children, and the adults they become. Those falling in this category include orphans, abandoned infants, children of foreign or absent fathers (where gender discrimination exists in fact or law), children being cared for by foster families, street children, those trafficked across borders, and other children separated from their parents, especially at a young age. Other groups at risk of statelessness are cross-border populations, including nomadic and pastoralist communities, as well as those affected by border disputes; long-term refugees and former refugees, and migrants without documentation of another nationality – and especially their descendants; and generally people of mixed ancestry and thus potential dual nationality, but who have no documentation from any state. These groups exist in every country of the region. This report also highlights two particular groups at risk of statelessness: the members of the various minority communities in Somalia; and people of Eritrean descent (or mixed Eritrean-Ethiopian descent) living in Ethiopia.

It is not possible to provide statistics on how many are stateless in the Horn of Africa. That is, it is not possible to estimate how many people are “not considered as a national by any state under the operation of its law”, the international law definition of a stateless person.  Statelessness is often only a situation that becomes apparent over time, after repeated efforts to obtain documents from the authorities of one or more countries.  With the exception of Djibouti, the countries considered by this report have very low levels of birth registration and have not historically provided for a national identity card or required one to access services. The distinction between a person lacking identity documents and a person who is stateless is thus not necessarily immediately clear: it remains possible for many people living in the Horn of Africa, whether peasant farmers or nomads in remote areas, or others who remain entirely in the informal sector, to avoid the need for identity documentation altogether.

There are plans and existing projects to upgrade identity systems throughout the region, and it may be that it is during these processes that statelessness is revealed. The conclusion and recommendations for this report propose legal reforms and procedures that should be put in place to ensure that these efforts to strengthen identification result in the prevention and reduction of statelessness, rather than its creation.

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Themes: Acquisition of nationality, Acquisition by children, African standards, International standards, Mass Expulsions, Discrimination, Ethnic/Racial/Religious, Gender, Dual Nationality, Birth Registration, Naturalisation and Marriage, ID Documents and Passports, Loss and Deprivation of Nationality, State Succession, New States, Statelessness
Regions: Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia
Year: 2021