4 November 2019, Kyiv – Today UNHCR observes the mid-point of the 10-year-long campaign #IBelong that was launched in November 2014 with the goal of ending statelessness – the problem that often affects the most vulnerable and stigmatized people.
The international legal definition of a stateless person is “a person who is not considered as a national by any State under the operation of its law”. Because stateless persons lack documents proving their nationality, they frequently cannot exercise basic human rights, such as their rights to education, health care, and employment opportunities. They face exclusion from society, poverty and stigmatization.
It is estimated that at least 10 million people worldwide are stateless. Approximately one-third of them are children.
In Ukraine, UNHCR estimates that as many as 35,000 persons are stateless or have unidentified nationality, including people whose nationality remained unclear following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, persons who still hold Soviet passports, and other undocumented individuals who for various reasons have difficulty proving their links to Ukraine. In addition, many Ukrainian citizens lack birth certificates and identity documents, which exposes them to risks of statelessness in the future. This includes children born in non-government-controlled areas, as well as Roma who have never obtained identity documents.
From June 2017 to September 2019, UNHCR and its partner NGOs identified and provided legal aid to 2,064 undocumented persons in Kyiv, Kharkiv, Odesa, Zakarpatska, Donetsk and Luhansk regions. In total for 28 months, 304 persons obtained passports (including 36 foreign passports); 101 persons obtained birth certificates; and 326 persons obtained duplicates of birth certificates due to loss of documents.
“It is a frustrating reality that we have been able to get a result for only 700 out of 2,000 people we have helped in the last two years,” explained Pablo Mateu, UNHCR Representative in Ukraine. “The procedures are long, complex and costly. Lawyers have to help people collect documents from the place they were born and where they lived. They need documents with photos, and they have to find witnesses to confirm their identity. It is extremely difficult for those whose documents and witnesses are in the NGCA of Donetsk and Luhansk regions, as well as for elderly, sick and poor people.”
Though currently UNHCR covers some fees and provides free legal aid in some geographic areas, it would expand access to identity documentation if the government extended free legal aid to persons without identity documents and also waived some administrative and court fees.
In addition, UNHCR supports the introduction of a statelessness determination procedure in Ukraine. This procedure would create a path to identity and legality for people who have no documents and no nationality. “It is good news that the Verkhovna Rada has registered a new draft law on developing a statelessness determination procedure,” noted Mr. Mateu. “This text was developed in a consultative manner by the Ministry of Interior, State Migration Service, members of parliament and civil society, and it reflects international legal standards.”
The UNHCR welcomes local improvements that were introduced in five regions of Ukraine: Zakarpattya, Donetsk, Kharkiv, Odesa and Kyiv. At a ceremony in Kyiv on 4 November 2019, eleven staff members of the State Migration Service and two Civil Registry were awarded by UNHCR for their active involvement and persistent work to eradicate statelessness.
“Only five more years left before the end of campaign #IBelong. For too many people, these will be five more years in poverty, lacking access to basic services and rights. Together we must do everything possible to stop this discrimination, and to end statelessness in Ukraine,” – added Mr. Mateu.