Reduction in statelessness, prevention of statelessness and the protection of stateless people in the Middle East provided the focus of a workshop organized by the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the Middle East Council of Churches (MECC) from 6 to 10 September at Saydet el Jabal Monastery in Beirut, Lebanon.
The event gathered 40 participants, mainly from Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine and Syria, as well as from Asia, Europe and North America, with women participants in the majority.
“Statelessness is first and foremost about human beings, families, communities. It is not only about laws and regulations,” said Amit Sen from the UN High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) office in Amman. According to UNHCR, at least 10 million people worldwide have no nationality. Statelessness often occurs because of discrimination against certain groups, the redrawing of borders and gaps in nationality laws.
“Without a right to nationality, it is difficult for an individual to materialize the whole set of basic human rights,” said Peter Prove, director of the WCC’s Commission of the Churches on International Affairs (CCIA).
Semegnish Asfaw Grosjean, WCC programme executive for international affairs, explained how the workshop was a follow-up of the Den Dolder consultation that preceded the first Global Forum on statelessness which was held in The Hague, The Netherlands, in September 2014. “The workshop equipped practitioners working with refugees and Internally Displaced People in the Middle East with tools so as better to understand and meet the needs of stateless people and work towards preventing future cases of statelessness,” she said.
“The training is timely and very meaningful for our member churches and ecumenical partners, as we are currently grappling with a high refugee crisis,” said Seta Hadeshian-Margossian, director of the Diakonia and Social Justice Unit of the MECC, and co-organizer of the workshop.
In another session, Bishop Duleep De Chickera, member of the CCIA, said that “the stateless person, i.e. the person pushed to the periphery, has a spirituality from which we all can learn”.
Gender discrimination in nationality laws also lay at the heart of deliberations at the workshop. It was said that in the Middle-East, national legislation frequently does not allow women to register the birth of their child, or to confer nationality on their spouse. Consequently, with the current migration crisis in the region, a great number of refugee children born in separated families – the father being absent as a result of the on-going conflict – are at a high risk of statelessness.
Among the CCIA members present at the workshop were Ambassador Lily Zachariah from Malaysia, Dr Audeh Quawas from Jordan and Maria Mountraki from Finland.