Source: Southern Africa Nationality Network / UNHCR / Lawyers for Human Rights
This quarterly newsletter includes highlights on the Global Action Plan to End Statelessness, and news from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Kingdom of Eswatini, Kingdom of Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Republic of Congo, South Africa and Zambia.
On 25 August, the Ministry of Justice and the UNHCR held a High-Level meeting to validate a workplan aimed at facilitating the government’s accession to the international conventions on statelessness. The Minister of Justice is leading this initiative, and a mission has been planned to learn best practices on accession processes from the government of Côte d’Ivoire. The mission delegation will include the DRC Statelessness Focal Point and a representative from the Inter-Institutional Technical Committee. Côte d’Ivoire acceded to the international conventions on dtatelessness in 2013 and also became the first African country to adopt a Statelessness Determination Mechanism in 2020.
On 13 September, the Youth Sustainable Development Centre (YSDC) hosted a stakeholder engagement meeting on nationality rights and statelessness in Ezulwini, Eswatini. Part of this meeting included the launch of a documentary focused on the risk of being stateless in Eswatini. An important outcome of the meeting was an agreement to set up a committee focused on nationality rights and documentation in Eswatini, as well as the establishment of a focal person on statelessness within the Ministry of Home Affairs.
The Cabinet of Lesotho has adopted a National Migration Development Policy that was launched in Maseru by the Ministry of Home Affairs and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in September. The policy was developed in consultation with various development partners including IOM, the UNHCR, the African Union Commission, and the Lesotho National Consultative Committee on Migration and Development (NCC) – an inter-ministerial and multi-sectoral body which has an advisory role to Government in all aspects of migration issues. The policy provides a foundation and framework towards coherent and effective migration and development policy at a national level. It identifies 16 core areas of priority, including a focus on challenges related to statelessness (Policy Objective 11). The strategies to address stateless involve a study to assess the causes of statelessness in Lesotho and to identify possible solutions, and a campaign to raise awareness about statelessness. In the policy, Lesotho re-iterates it commitment to fulfill the government’s pledges made at the 2019 High-Level Segment on Statelessness convened by UNHCR.
On 13 and 14 July, the Focus Development Association (FDA) organized an information and sensitization workshop for journalists on the right to Malagasy nationality, in Antsirabe. The workshop provided information for journalists on bill no: 001/2021/PL which relates to Malagasy nationality, and the need for amendments of this bill to ensure the protection of human rights and limit discrimination. A newspaper article was published as a result of the workshop looking at the right to nationality and cases of statelessness in Madagascar. Another outcome of the workshop was a radio show hosted by Studio Sifaka with young people discussing statelessness in Madagascar.
On 10 August, the Deputy Representative and Associate Refugee Status Determination (RSD) Officer of UNHCR visited the National Assembly, which is a part of the Madagascan parliament, in Tsimbazaza. The meeting addressed the issue of statelessness in Madagascar. They discussed the re-launch of the bill n° 001/2021/PL relating to Malagasy nationality, which included discussion on including guarantees against statelessness and removing existing discriminations. A newspaper article was published highlighting this meeting and the importance of statelessness being placed on the National Assembly’s agenda.
On 29 August, during a meeting between UNHCR representatives and the National Assembly, the National Assembly confirmed its support for the process of relaunching the bill n° 001/2021/PL on Malagasy nationality and suggested that workshops be held with parliamentarians on the relaunching of the bill. A newspaper article was published highlighting the Nationality Assembly’s confirmation of this important agreement.
Following from the above mentioned meeting, on 13 September, the FDA held a technical meeting with the Secretary General of the National Assembly and his staff at the Hemicycle, Tsimbazaza regarding the relaunch of bill n°001/2021/PL on Malagasy nationality. At the end of the meeting, three workshops were proposed targeting i) the Members of Parliament who signed the bill and their colleagues, ii) the Presidents and Bureau members of the Parliamentary Groups and iii) the Presidents of the Standing Committees.
At the 2019 Global Refugee Forum and the High-Level Segment on Statelessness convened by UNHCR, the government of Malawi pledged to undertake a study on the situation of groups and individuals in the country who are stateless or at risk of statelessness. The Ministry of Homeland Security in Malawi has now commissioned a consultant to conduct this study. The study will assist in gathering qualitative data on the issue and developing solutions for affected groups and individuals.
Between July and August, UNHCR, in partnership with Catholic University and the government of Mozambique, assisted 1,721 people at risk of statelessness in Cabo Deglado with access to legal identity and identification cards (this included; 418 women, 431 men, 437 girls, and 435 boys). Cabo Delgado hosts a large population of internally displaced people who have been forced to flee the northern districts due to violence and armed attacks, in the process they have lost their identity documentation. Acquiring civil documentation minimizes/addresses the risk of statelessness allows displaced populations to access available services and social protection including access to education, property, and employment.
Between July and September, the Comissão Episcopal para Migrantes Refugiados e Deslocados (CEMIRDE), with the support of UNHCR, conducted the following advocacy activities:
1. a meeting with leaders of refugee communities through the National Institute of Refugee Support (NIRS) to raise awareness on the processes relating to the registration of children born in Mozambique to refugee parents, review nationality applications on behalf of foreign-born refugees, and share information on children’s rights in Mozambique;
2. a workshop for refugees and asylum seekers on gender-based violence and children’s rights. Specific focus was given to discussion on birth and nationality registration as safeguards against statelessness.
3. a meeting with leaders from refugee and asylum seeker communities and government officials on the challenges faced by refugees in processes to acquire a nationality and integrate into communities.
The Ministry of Home Affairs in Namibia has identified statelessness as one of the serious human rights issues on its agenda requiring immediate intervention. To gain a better understanding of the issue, the Deputy Minister is conducting a tour to engage with affected communities. In an interview held with the Deputy Minister in September, it was noted that the Ministry’s preliminary assessment revealed that there are many undocumented Namibians and abandoned children at a high risk of statelessness. After the assessment is finalised, the Ministry intends to develop mechanisms to address the issue. In the Ohangwena region, 79 children have already been registered during the Deputy Minister’s visit.
Republic of Congo:
In line with the government’s policy to combat statelessness, the Council of Ministers adopted a decree establishing an inter-institutional technical committee for the eradication of statelessness on 30 August. The committee will lead in the development of a statelessness determination mechanism that will serve as an important tool in the adjudication of applications for stateless status and enhance the protection of stateless persons pending the resolution of their stateless situation.
Since 2018, the UNHCR has conducted training for civil registrars on issues of birth registration and statelessness, and the role of duty bearers in the fight against statelessness. On 28 and 29
September, similar training was conducted with 100 civil registrars in Owando, Cuvette, and a total of 1 200 civil registrars have been trained, to date.
Since 2019, the government in partnership with the UNHCR has been running an awareness-raising campaign on birth registration on the prevention of statelessness. Fifty (50) community
volunteers have been deployed in Brazzaville, Plateaux, Lekoumou, Pointe-Noire, Niari, and Likouala, to sensitize households on the importance of birth registration in the prevention of statelessness. The campaign has reached a total of 10,000 households to date, and a significant number of parents are now approaching the civil registration centers to register their children.
UNHCR Regional Bureau for Southern Africa and the University of Cape Town (UCT): Refugee Rights Unit conducted a five-day on line course on statelessness for legal practitioners and government officials from various African countries from 25-29 July. Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR) and the Centre for Child Law (CCL) participated in the discussion to share their expertise on providing legal services to stateless persons and building local and regional networks to combat statelessness. The course aims to provide participants with a better understanding of statelessness and nationality, tools to identify the causes of statelessness, and strategies to address situations of statelessness. The course also presents an opportunity to exchange best practices between participants.
LHR hosted a training for the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) staff on 28 July. The SAHRC, as a National Human Rights Institute, plays an important role in promoting and monitoring human rights standards in South Africa. This training was designed to build the legal capacity of the SAHRC staff to handle statelessness-related complaints effectively.
The National Inter-Agency Working Group (NIAWG)  on Unaccompanied and Separated Migrant Children conducted a workshop for social workers in Kwa-Zulu Natal Province on 7 September. This workshop is part of the NIAWG’s capacity-building initiative to assist social workers to identify and resolve common legal issues faced by migrant children living in South Africa, including issues related to statelessness and access to documentation. The NIAWG further hosts cross-border meetings to build networks in the region for enhanced protection of unaccompanied and separated migrant children in Southern Africa. Protection includes intervention in cases dealing with statelessness and documentation of migrant children. In this quarter, the NIAWG attended a meeting in Maseru, Lesotho to discuss cases of children with links to South Africa and Lesotho.
On 14 and 16 September, LHR joined ProBono.Org in a community engagement session with civil society organisations, community leaders, and schools on migration and statelessness in Limpopo Province. Through this engagement, participants gained a better understanding of the concept of migration and statelessness, and the prevention and protection mechanisms against statelessness that exist in South Africa.
The Children’s Court in Tshwane District (Pretoria) hosts bi-monthly case management meetings to discuss children’s matters with various stakeholders including social service providers, legal aid providers, government departments, and the Office of the Family Advocate. LHR and Centre for Child Law (CCL) attend these meetings to provide legal advice and proposed solutions in cases specifically related to stateless children, undocumented children and migrant children. Two meetings were held in this quarter.
On 12 July, the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) launched an inquiry into the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) practice of blocking identity documents without due administrative process. The SAHRC invited the DHA, LHR, and CCL to participate in the inquiry and to make submissions on the constitutionality and lawfulness of this practice. The SAHRC also invited affected people to give testimonials on the impact of this practice on their lives. Both LHR and CCL highlighted the practice as a major contributor to the scourge of statelessness and lack of documentation in South Africa. It effectively results in “citizenship stripping” because in legal or practical terms; one cannot access the rights, privileges, and benefits of citizenship without a valid identity document, and it creates a risk of statelessness for those without access to any other citizenship. LHR and CCL recommended that the DHA reviews this practice and aligns all laws and policies related to the practice to the Constitution and administrative laws. (Full submissions available here).
On 6 September, LHR’s Statelessness Project represented a stateless client in a court application to challenge a four-year delay by the DHA to make a decision on his application for legal status. He has lived in South Africa for over 40 years but discovered he was stateless in 2014 after his identity document was arbitrarily blocked and invalidated by the DHA. Two important legal issues are noted in this case;
1. the DHA’s practice of marking or blocking IDs without due administrative process or legal safeguards against statelessness is a growing threat to nationality rights in South Africa;
2. the client’s only recourse was to apply for an exemption application under the Immigration Act that would give him legal status to continue living and working in South Africa, however, the DHA often takes months or years to process these applications leaving vulnerable people in limbo. LHR argued that the delay by the DHA was unconstitutional, unreasonable, and constituted a serious infringement of his right to dignity and access to services.
The court ordered the DHA to process his application within 30 days and to grant the client legal residence until the decision is finalised. Read more about the case here.
On 13 September, the Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs invited the DHA, UNHCR, the Congolese Civil Society of South Africa (CSSA), andLHR to a parliamentary briefing on the situation of statelessness, refugees, and migrant rights in South Africa. On the issue of statelessness, while South Africa has taken some positive steps to address the issue there are still gaps in the laws, policies, and practices that leave many people at risk of statelessness or stateless in the country. LHR’s report highlighted these gaps and proposed recommendations for the eradication of statelessness in South Africa and improved protection of stateless people.
The CCL has recently been admitted as amicus curiae in a court case concerning an 8- year-old of unknown nationality and at risk of deportation. The child has lived in a Child and Youth Care Centre (CYCC) in South Africa for several years and is presumably Zimbabwean. However, it has been difficult to establish the child’s nationality as the child has had no contact with any family and has no identity documentation. The CCL argues that South Africa needs to adopt mechanisms to assist children in such circumstances to determine their nationality and to obtain lawful residence in the interim; and if their nationality cannot be determined, it is in the child’s best interests that the country of residence provides a pathway to citizenship and protection from statelessness.
Earlier in the year, the Ministry of Home Affairs and Internal Security (MOHIS), the Department of National Registration, Passport and Citizenship, in partnership with UNHCR, embarked on a registration and verification initiative to issue alien cards and birth certificates to refugees, asylum seekers, and other persons of concern in order to prevent the risk of statelessness (and in line with Zambia’s pledge to facilitate easier access to birth registration by 2023). The initiative included residents of the Meheba and Mayukwayukwa refugee settlements and was extended to residents of the Mantapala refugee settlement in June and July. 388 birth certificates and 1,507 alien cards were issued to refugees in Lusaka, and 618 birth certificates were issued to refugees in Mantapala.
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