Press release: Civil Society in the Asia Pacific agrees to unite to end statelessness

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]BANGKOK, June 17 – Civil society groups in the Asia and the Pacific have agreed to set up a new and dedicated network to prevent and eradicate statelessness in the region and advocate for the right of every person to a nationality.

This commitment was announced on Tuesday at the end of a two-day Civil Society retreat on Resolving Statelessness in Asia and the Pacific held at Mahidol University in Salaya, Thailand. The retreat was organised jointly by the Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network (APRRN), the Institute of Human Rights and Peace Studies at Mahidol University and UNHCR. It drew over 40 participants from non-governmental organizations and academia in 14 countries in the region, including Australia, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Republic of Korea and Thailand.

Globally at least 10 million people are believed to be stateless, that is to say that they are not considered nationals by any State. While data has improved over the years, currently reliable information is only available for some 3.5 million people of concern under UNHCR’s statelessness mandate, of whom more than 40 per cent live in the Asia-Pacific region.

“Statelessness is an anomaly,” said Professor Sriprapha Petcharamsesree, Acting Director of the Institute of Human Rights of Peace Studies at Mahidol University. “In order to correct this, academics and researchers in the region should ensure that the situation of people without a nationality and uncertain legal status is better understood and that decisions that are made about them also include them.”

Anoop Sukumaran, Executive Director of APRRN, added, “Statelessness and forced migration are often integrally linked. Statelessness is a key cause of forced displacement and the children of refugees born in exile are particularly at risk of being left without a nationality.”

UNHCR has the goal of ending statelessness globally by 2024 and this is one of the agency’s regional priorities in Asia and the Pacific. 

“Past successes have shown us that civil society is key to preventing and reducing statelessness in the region,” said Alistair Boulton, UNHCR’s Assistant Regional Representative for Protection in Bangkok. “We warmly welcome the decision to establish a new network to contribute to the resolution of statelessness.”

During the retreat, UNHCR launched the 10-point Global Action Plan to end statelessness by 2024 to civil society in the region, which focuses on resolving current situations of statelessness and preventing statelessness from occurring in the future. Speakers from civil society shared achievements in helping Governments to resolve situations of statelessness in Bangladesh, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Thailand.

Ramiah Yogarajan, a Member of Parliament in Sri Lanka, described a series of amendments that were made to Sri Lankan nationality law to ensure citizenship for persons of Indian origin whose ancestors had migrated in colonial times. Nationality documentation was issued to new citizens in 2004 by the Government with the support of the Ceylon Workers Congress and UNHCR.

“The political consensus reflected in the 2003 Act being passed unanimously by the Sri Lankan Parliament was a unique achievement of reconciliation in the midst of ethnic conflict,” he noted.

A core group of academics, experts and NGO representatives took responsibility for developing the network and continuing consultations with stateless people and other stakeholders to build upon the positive momentum that has come out of the retreat.

For more information please contact:

Anoop Sukumaran, Executive Director, Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network
Tel: +66 2 252 66 54 | Mobile: +66 89 103 5708

Vivian Tan, Senior Regional Public Information Officer, UNHCR
Tel: +66 818 270 280 

Dr Mike Hayes, Institute of Human Rights and Peace Studies, Mahidol University

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