In a regional training workshop coordinated by the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the Council for World Mission, more than 40 participants from 10 nations in the Pacific examined situations where people start life without a nationality, or can become stateless during their lifetimes.
The workshop tied the vulnerability of stateless people to climate change. Collectively, Pacific nations are one of the smallest contributors to the emissions which cause climate change, yet they are in the frontlines of the impacts to the extent that their very existence, and hence statehood, is threatened. Participants shared how their lands are increasingly suffering erosion and their water supplies salinized. In Tuvalu and Kiribati particularly, there is a very real fear of the eventual submersion of their homelands and potential loss of their statehood, oceanic cultures, ways of living and identities.
Participants shared insights on how the climate emergency and statelessness intersect to increase the vulnerability of communities. Questions of legal identity and the importance of birth registration also were addressed.
“The way in which gender inequality in many countries can impact the right to nationality was also examined, with women in several countries unable to transfer their nationality to their children and spouses, on an equal footing to men,” said Sierra Bird, from the Solomon Islands, as she gave a theological reflection to challenge those interpretations of the Bible which justify the demeaning of women to a lower place with less rights.
"Participants considered how their own local churches, national denominations, and Council for World Mission could work to prevent statelessness. Action points included education and awareness raising activities, and commitments to check in congregations to ensure that all children have a birth certificate,” said WCC programme executive for Human Rights and Disarmament Jennifer Philpot-Nissen.
"This workshop is the last of a series of yearly regional trainings that the WCC has conducted on statelessness since 2015. The hope with this exercise was to sensitise the ecumenical family with the multifaceted regional challenges that stateless communities experience in different regions, and encourage our partners to become advocates for the human rights and dignity of stateless people worldwide,” added Segma Asfaw, programme executive for the WCC Commission of the Churches on International Affairs.
"Statelessness as a concept is new to the Pacific region, especially the discussion of it in any level, be it in the church, in the government, or in civil society. After the workshop, many church leaders were exposed to a not-so-far reality that will be experienced by many Pacific islanders due to climate uprootedness. The link between statelessness and gender equality may not be an issue in the Pacific, but the women who attended the workshop realised the disadvantage they have within their own communities that could be identified with someone who is without a state,” said Rev. Nikotemo Sopepa, mission secretary for the Pacific, Council for World Mission.