What do you think when you hear that someone is stateless? That they are some kind of free-floating personality that lives without borders? That they are a citizen of the universe? If only.
The reality is far different for the 15 million plus people that lack nationality. All too often they are cut adrift from any sense of legal identity. They are marginalised and lack rights. They are at the back of the queue in terms of access to basic services. They can find themselves stereotyped and demonised as ‘the other’. They are voiceless.
They are invisible people living in the margins of society and the numbers of those whose citizenship is under threat is growing every day.
Covid-19 is also invisible and as the virus has zipped across borders and territories governments and donors have struggled to put measures and procedures in place to support and protect those who need help. In doing so, they protect the people who they choose to see and count, rather than those who are invisible. But the virus does not ask to see an individual’s passport or papers before infection.
It is for this reason that the Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion (ISI) is responding to the current challenge by raising funds for, and implementing the Covid-19 Emergency Statelessness Fund (CESF). The CESF is a targeted and time bound initiative that enables ISI to meet needs on the frontline of the crisis, channelling resources to activists and NGOs that have a track record in working with stateless people and are informed by their priorities.
What is the Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion (ISI)?
ISI is the only NGO working on statelessness and the right to nationality worldwide. Established in The Netherlands in 2014, it has a multi-national Board that oversees its work to promote inclusive societies by realising and protecting the right to a nationality. Its current Strategic Plan (2018-2023) includes the priorities of (i) realising every child’s right to a nationality; (ii) countering discrimination and the arbitrary denial and deprivation of nationality; and (iii) broadening and deepening effective engagement on the issue of statelessness. ISI works with partners in over 60 countries, across all continents. The scourge of statelessness is widespread and spreading.
The Covid-19 pandemic prompted ISI to move beyond its training, support, networking and policy advocacy roles to build an international Consortium committed to protecting stateless people in the time of the current crisis. Working at the local, national and international level, ISI partners with grantees to implement projects. The partner then becomes part of the Consortium where they can network with and learn from each other. Some of the projects supported under the CESF were showcased in a recent webinar, ‘Together We Can: A Consortium to Protect the Stateless in Times of Covid-19’. During this discussion Consortium members highlighted the impact of Covid-19 on the communities they support and how both CESF funding and the innovative horizontal structure of the CESF Consortium is helping to address the crisis.
From funding to advocacy
The CESF was initiated with the support of monies raised from a number of independent philanthropies that recognised the reach that ISI has into societies where statelessness is a real problem. Projects funded to date include work in Bangladesh, the Dominican Republic, India, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, North Macedonia, Malaysia, Montenegro, Nepal, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Irrespective of region, they prioritise work that reflects the priorities of stateless people themselves and that highlights issues that need to be addressed at both policy and practice level. They have found that stateless communities are disproportionately suffering and being excluded from relief. The CESF is breaking new ground: it is working towards structural solutions to redress the suffering of stateless people and collecting evidence that is being used to advocate for an end to the societal unwillingness to address statelessness.
ISI is also committed to raising the profile of its partner organisations given that they are working to remedy one of the most serious human rights violations in the world today. They welcome partners in this task and believe that if we are to Build Back Better as the UN suggests, then no one should be left behind.
Avila Kilmurray is based in Belfast, Northern Ireland where she works with the Social Change Initiative. Previously, Avila led the Community Foundation for Northern Ireland.