For Immediate Release:
June 26, 2008
Vanessa Parra, 202-828-0110 x225
First-Ever Legislation to Prevent and Reduce Statelessness Introduced into U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. – Refugees International applauds Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX) and Rep. Diane Watson (D-CA) today for introducing the first-ever piece of legislation in the U.S. Congress that urges efforts to prevent and reduce statelessness. According to the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), some 12 million people worldwide are unable to claim citizenship to any country and are at risk of statelessness, because of war, secession, change of state boundaries or past discrimination. The new bill increases U.S. efforts to encourage states to recognize people who have no nationality where they live. It requires the President to report on the extent of statelessness and directs the Secretary of State to increase personnel and resources dedicated to the prevention and resolution of statelessness.
"Refugees International commends Representatives Jackson-Lee and Watson for recognizing the global impact of statelessness. By enacting this legislation, the U.S. Congress will be offering new hope to 12 million stateless people worldwide by making the prevention and resolution of statelessness a high priority for U.S. foreign policy for the first time," said Ken Bacon, president of Refugees International. "Reducing statelessness not only increases the quality of life for these individuals; it increases stability within nations, reduces forced displacement and trafficking, and even lessens refugee flows."
Although the Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms that "Everyone has the right to a nationality," 12 million people have not attained that right. Stateless people are often deprived of their right to education, to health care, to be legally employed, to own property, to be able to marry, to travel, or to vote. Children of stateless people are rarely able to escape this status and are at serious risk of becoming victims of traffickers or party to desperate and disaffected groups lacking peaceful means of recourse. Stateless individuals generally do not benefit from the protection and assistance of governments, the UN, or aid agencies.
"RI has observed that when stateless people obtain citizenship, they enjoy the benefits and responsibilities of full participation in civil society and protection under the rule of law. Yet, few resources are available to prevent and reduce statelessness," said Maureen Lynch, senior advocate for stateless initiatives at Refugees International. "Despite a mandate to work on behalf of stateless people, the UN refugee agency is sorely under-resourced. Other parts of the UN also need to increase their efforts and coordination on this issue, and we are pleased that this bill works towards that end."
The legislation will require reporting on what the U.S. and international organizations can do to assist countries to equitably resolve statelessness and on how the U.S. itself deals with stateless individuals given existing international conventions. U.S. representatives to the UN and international organizations must develop a comprehensive and coordinated approach to identifying and aiding stateless groups to attain their full human rights. Although UNICEF has worked to improve birth registration and UNHCR has markedly increased its efforts undertaken on behalf of the world’s stateless people, this legislation would authorize additional resources to encourage more coordinated and effective efforts to prioritize the prevention and reduction of statelessness. The State Department’s annual human rights report must also document conditions facing stateless people around the world.
"Refugees International encourages swift enactment of this legislation by the U.S. Congress," concluded Mr. Bacon. "The legislation will again demonstrate the interest of the Congress and the American people in ensuring respect for the inalienable rights and responsibilities of all men, women and children – and the responsibility of states to protect all people under the rule of law."
Refugees International is a Washington, DC-based organization that advocates to end refugee crises. The organization has been at the forefront of efforts to alert policy makers to the problem of statelessness and ultimately reduce the number of stateless people since the 2005 publication of its landmark report, Lives on Hold: The Human Cost of Statelessness. Staff members have conducted missions to assess the situation for stateless people in Bangladesh, Syria, Kuwait, Dominican Republic, Kenya, Ethiopia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire, Malaysia, United Arab Emirates and Estonia. For more information, go to www.refugeesinternational.org/stateless
Refugees International advocates for lifesaving assistance and protection for displaced people and promotes solutions to displacement crises.