UNHCR and response to statelessness

Manly, M. & Persaud, S. (2009). UNHCR and response to statelessness. Forced Migration Review. 32. 7-11.

UNHCR and other actors have stepped up efforts to address statelessness. However, the global impact of statelessness is not yet sufficiently understood and far more needs to be done

In legal terms, being stateless means that no state considers you a national under the operation of its law. The practical implications of this are very serious. For instance, stateless persons generally are not recognised as persons before the law and face difficulties in travelling, marrying and accessing education and health care. In short, statelessness often means that leading a life like others in society is not possible.1

Since its creation, UNHCR has worked to provide international protection and to seek durable solutions for stateless refugees who are covered by its Statute and by the 1951 Convention. UNHCR also actively participated in the drafting of the two global statelessness instruments – the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons and the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness. In 1974 the UN General Assembly designated UNHCR as the organisation to which persons claiming the benefit of the 1961 Convention may apply for examination of their claims and for assistance in presenting those claims to state authorities.

The massive increase in statelessness due to the break-up of the USSR, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia and the emergence of successor states in the early 1990s underlined the need for a more effective international response to statelessness. As a result, the UN General Assembly entrusted UNHCR with a global mandate to work to prevent and reduce statelessness and to protect stateless persons. UNHCR therefore has a mandate with two distinct elements: to address situations of statelessness which occur around the world and to assist in resolving cases which may arise under the 1961 Convention. The efforts of UNHCR thus far have been facilitated by a number of developments at the international level.

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