The webinar was held on the seventh anniversary of the launch of the UN Refugee Agency’s #Ibelong Campaign, and showcased progress made in efforts to combat statelessness and discussed opportunities for greater impact in the years ahead.
The webinar, organized by the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the Global Campaign for Equal Nationality Rights, was also an opportunity to mark the 60th anniversary of the adoption of the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness.
Ekaterina, a founding member of United Stateless, moderated the discussion from her meaningful perspective of having lived as a stateless person. “Statelessness is an isolating experience,” she said, but added that the ensuing conversation brought a lot of hope for improving the plight of stateless people.
Christiana Bukalo, a stateless activist and founder of State Free World, described her soon-to-be-launched digital space over which stateless people and their allies will be able to communicate.
“It’s been a journey, I’d say,” reflected Bukalo who, like Ekaterina, spoke about her own experiences as a stateless person. “For me it’s more of an emotional and mental burden,” she said.
Radha Govil, senior legal officer (statelessness), Division of International Protection at the UN Refugee Agency, said she draws a lot of hope from the fact that 40 states have joined the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness since 2010. “How many conventions get that level of ratification in just a decade?” she asked.
Bishop Kortu Brown, president of the Liberia Council of Churches, spoke about why he passionately advocates for birth registration in Liberia and throughout Africa. “That document is instrumental to ensure and protect the basic rights of an individual,” he said. “Birth registration is unfortunately not so systematic in Africa, particularly in Liberia.
“In essence, birth registration is the protection and prevention of statelessness,” he said.
Li Li, a mother affected by gender discrimination in Malaysia’s nationality law, spoke of her experience in 2017 when she delivered a baby in Italy. Advised by the doctor not to travel, to ensure a safe delivery, she contacted the Malaysian embassy but is still struggling to have her child recognized, despite diligently following up with government authorities. “The correspondence was via email—and still I have it now,” she said.
Prof. Fernand de Varennes, United Nations special rapporteur on Minority Issues, said that the main point to retain is that most stateless people overwhelmingly come from minority backgrounds.
“Think of the Rohingya minority in Myanmar,” he said. “This is a pattern which happens or reoccurs around the world.”
“The WCC, through its Commission of the Churches on International Affairs (CCIA) which is marking its 75th anniversary this year, has a long tradition of upholding human rights" said Segma Asfaw, WCC programme executive. "We voice the concerns of those living on the margins of the margins, such as stateless people, giving them a platform to educate all of us on their struggles. This is the biggest part of our advocacy efforts. “