Abidjan to host first Ministerial conference on statelessness in West Africa

21 Feb, 2015

news040_1The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is in collaboration with ECOWAS and the Government of Cote d’Ivoire hosting the first Ministerial Conference on Statelessness in West Africa from 23 to 25 February 2015.

Ivorian President H.E. Alassane Ouattara, will inaugurate the Conference, which will be attended by Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Justice and the Interior from the region whose portfolios touch on the issue of statelessness.

UNHCR’s High Commissioner, Mr. António Guterres, and senior officials of regional organizations, including ECOWAS, the African Union, the Organization of the Islamic Conference and the Mano River Union will also attend.

Civil society organizations, national human rights institutions, United Nations agencies, international experts, and diplomatic representatives from across West Africa are also invited to the conference.

The ministerial session on 25th February will be preceded by a two-day high-level technical meeting by experts in the field of nationality and statelessness who will come up with concrete recommendations to prevent, reduce and resolve statelessness in West Africa.

Of the estimated 10 million people who are stateless or at risk of statelessness in the world, at least 750,000 live in West Africa. These are individuals that have difficulties proving they possess links to a State due, for instance, to a lack of birth registration and personal documentation that traces their origins and could confirm their identity.

Populations without birth certificates, abandoned children, undocumented stranded migrants, and individuals living in areas of state succession and border disputes constitute some of the major groups of people at risk of statelessness in West Africa.

Stateless people are denied a nationality and are deprived of their basic human rights. Forced to live in the shadows, they cannot go to school, see a doctor, get a job, open a bank account, buy a house, vote or get legally married, among many other obstacles. This situation can be perpetuated from generation to generation, putting large groups of people at risk of being stateless with severe consequences for the development of a country and the stability of the region.

In November 2014 UNHCR launched a Global Campaign to End Statelessness within 10 years, which includes an Action Plan to resolve existing cases of statelessness and prevent new ones from arising.

The Ministerial Conference in Abidjan, the first of its kind on the African continent, is key to addressing statelessness in the West African region.

By organising the conference ECOWAS and the UNHCR aim to promote a comprehensive regional strategy to identify stateless people, design protection measures, and develop concrete solutions to prevent and reduce statelessness throughout the region.

At the end of the Conference ECOWAS Member States are expected to sign a declaration on the right to nationality and express their commitment to ending statelessness in the near future.

Member States