From: Berhane Habtemariam (Berhane.Habtemariam@gmx.de)
Date: Thu Aug 25 2011 - 17:04:06 EDT
Sudanese risk post-independence statelessness - UNHCR
Thu Aug 25, 2011 6:47pm GMT
By Katie Nguyen
LONDON Aug 25 (Reuters) - Large Sudanese communities could become stateless,
deprived of basic rights such as access to jobs and education, unless
Khartoum and Juba ensure citizenship for all following South Sudan's
independence, the U.N. refugee chief said on Thursday.
Khartoum has excluded dual nationality for southerners, and last month
Sudan's parliament gave initial approval to cancel the citizenship of anyone
taking up South Sudanese nationality after South Sudan became independent on
The move highlights the legal uncertainty of hundreds of thousands of
southerners who have been living in the north for decades. Analysts say the
question of citizenship could raise new tensions between the two sides that
ended a two-decade war in 2005 and have yet to finalise their border.
The issue is of particular concern for the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR),
which launched a campaign on Thursday to highlight the plight of an
estimated 12 million stateless people around the world. They do not exist on
paper and are not considered nationals by any country.
"We are afraid that many people that had established long-lasting
relationships in the north (of Sudan) and have very few contacts in the
south might fall through the cracks if their nationality is not recognised
(by either state)," the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio
Guterres, told AlertNet in an interview.
Guterres said UNHCR was working with both sides to make sure that every
Sudanese was granted a nationality "to avoid what has happened, for
instance, with the break-up of the Soviet Union in the past".
Statelessness exacerbates poverty, creates social tensions and can divide
families. The problem is most widespread in Southeast Asia, Central Asia,
Eastern Europe and the Middle East, UNHCR said.
Yet only 66 countries are parties to the 1954 Convention relating to the
Status of Stateless Persons, and only 38 countries have signed the
Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness which marks its 50th
anniversary on Aug. 30.
"That shows not only how difficult it has been to raise awareness in
relation to the problem, but also some resistance of states because this
deals with the heart of the concept of sovereignty -- nationality laws
which, to a certain extent, are sometimes responsible for the existence of
statelessness," Guterres said.
And yet there was a compelling humanitarian argument for states to sign up
to the conventions, he added, citing the "dramatic circumstances" in which
many stateless people lived.
"Can you imagine that you are now living in the slums of a city in the
developing world? That you have no nationality, no ID card?" Guterres said.
"You cannot send your children to school, you have no access to official
medical services, you do not have the right to work, to own property. That
you can be jailed and forgotten in jail."
The other argument being used to persuade governments to sign up was
financial, he said. Failure to recognise stateless people meant many are
unable to contribute to the economy.
(AlertNet is a global humanitarian news service run by Thomson Reuters
Foundation. For more, visit www.trust.org/alertnet)
(Reporting by Katie Nguyen)
C Thomson Reuters 2011 All rights reserved
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