Are the global compacts on refugees and for migration addressing statelessness appropriately?


The New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, adopted in September 2016, set out to create two compacts. On the one hand, there would be the global compact on refugees. On the other hand there would be the global compact for safe, orderly and regular migration. Since then, there have been two separate processes developing these documents and the zero drafts of both have been released: the compact on refugees on 31st January 2018 and the compact for migration on 5th February 2018. Both of these documents address statelessness, but in different ways and both will benefit from interrogation by those with deep understanding of the reality of statelessness.

In the New York Declaration, statelessness was addressed as a cause and a consequence of forced migration.

For the most part this is also the approach taken in the compact on refugees . Statelessness is mentioned among the other concerns associated with forced migration. In this first draft, statelessness itself is not unpacked and the detail of the proposed actions relating to statelessness are not made explicit, referring instead to other documents. The exception is paragraph 47, which emphasises ‘the establishment or strengthening of statelessness determination procedures’.

For example, while paragraph 62, which emphasises the need to ‘deploy resources and expertise to support States to prevent and reduce statelessness in line with UNHCR’s Campaign to End Statelessness and the sustainable development agenda’ sits under the heading ‘Civil registries’, it is not made clear how the two are related and mention is not made, for example, under the heading of ‘gender’ how the effects of gender discrimination in nationality laws put children born in transit at risk of statelessness. There is scope to address this moving forwards.

The zero draft of the compact for safe, orderly and regular migration has taken a different track, identifying important, and often hidden, ways in which statelessness and risk of statelessness are relevant for the migration infrastructure. While in the NY Declaration, statelessness was presented as a matter of forced migration, the Secretary General’s report on the process toward the compact for migration, ‘Making Migration Work for All’presented statelessness as a coordination problem between States, impairing the return of irregular migrants. In the zero draft of the compact for migration, the way in which statelessness is included has changed again.

The draft document includes a list of 22 objectives. Objective 4 is to ‘Provide all migrants with proof of legal identity, proper identification and documentation’. Within this objective, seven actions are identified. These include registering migrant births to help avoid statelessness (a), strengthening children’s access to citizenship (b) and abolishing citizenship requirements for access to basic services and human rights (f), for example. These are clearly welcomed. Other actions, however, need to be interrogated more carefully. For example, it is necessary carefully to examine the implications of sharing biometric registration (a), and aligned visa requirements (c) without ensuring access to citizenship and regular migration pathways.

Statelessness also needs to be addressed explicitly across the other objectives. For example, lack of citizenship could be highlighted as a barrier in today’s arrangement of citizens and States from access to key State structures (objective 2), and to pathways for regular migration (objective 5). Statelessness can make individuals particularly vulnerable when migrating (objective 7), including to being trafficked (Objective 10). And stateless persons, whether or not they have moved, can be subject to migration control measures like detention (objective 13).

It is exciting to see the extent to which statelessness is addressed in the zero drafts of both of these documents. However, as ever, there is more work to be done: first, to create explicit links between the two compacts and second, to ensure that the text of neither document inadvertently puts stateless persons at risk.

Now that zero drafts of both compacts have been presented, the period of negotiation and consultation begins, to be completed by the end of 2018. But the processes are slightly different and the ways in which civil society actors, including readers of this blog,  can get involved are also different.

The global compact on refugees will now undergo a series of six formal consultations, each followed by the release of a revised draft compact. These will be closed meetings, but written contributions from stakeholders can be submitted by email (see the roadmap for more information).  If ENS members or readers of this blog want to get involved, they might consider doing this, or lobbying States. The final draft of the compact on refugees is due to be proposed to the UN General Assembly in September 2018.

The global compact for migration has already undergone two phases. 2017 saw the consultation phase, with a series of UN-level thematic sessions, regional consultations and stakeholder consultations. This was followed by a brief period of stocktaking. The final phase will be one of intergovernmental negotiations. More information about the planned format of the negotiations can be found here, including how to apply to feed into them and how to watch plenary meetings, dialogues and press conferences, both live and recorded.

These compacts provide an impetus for rethinking the nature of policy governing human mobility and for examining the ways in which it relates to stateless persons and those at risk of statelessness. As neither of the compacts will be binding, they both provide an opportunity to be ambitious.

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