Ending Statelessness for the Next Generation

News and Press Release
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© UNHCR/Roger Arnold

UNHCR Philippines aims to make a difference in the lives of the women, men, and children who are stateless and at risk of statelessness.

Imagine, for a moment, that you don’t have a birth certificate. A piece of paper that seems so simple and trivial can easily be taken for granted. But a birth certificate proves that you exist. It proves that you are a Filipino citizen and allows you to access all the rights that come with it. For four-month-old Gabriel who doesn’t have one, it doesn’t come as easy.

The Plight of the Sama Bajau

Gabriel was born into the Sama Bajau community, an indigenous and nomadic ethnic minority who live mostly on the sea in Mindanao. Years before he was born, his family and thousands of others were displaced after the 2013 Zamboanga conflict, seeking shelter in government-run evacuation

centers. This was when they realized how having no form of documentation puts them at a disadvantage. Without a birth certificate, they cannot prove their identity. They do not have freedom of movement, nor access to health care and housing. Their children cannot

enroll in school. They are Filipinos, but without documentation, they are stateless.

The Sama Bajau have been without documentation for decades. Wanita Arajini, Gabriel’s great-grandmother, is now 70 years old and knows how challenging it has been for her entire family. “It has been difficult for us to access services and we always feared discrimination, because we were Sama Bajau,” says Wanita. “But when we get a birth certificate, we will feel more respected and be able to live life with dignity. I will feel valued as a citizen.”

New Hope for a Better Life

The good news is that the Philippines has adopted a national action plan to end statelessness. It is the only country in South-East Asia to have done so. UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, has worked closely with the Sama Bajau community, the local government authorities and the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples since 2016. It is thought there are 10,000 to 15,000 Sama Bajau living in Zamboanga alone, around 85 per cent of whom have no birth certificates.

This October, a pilot project supported by UNHCR and UNICEF seeks to register 1,500 people in the community. Working closely with the government authorities, including a mobile unit of the Civil Registrar’s Office, the aim is to issue families with documentation by mid-December.

This news brings Wanita peace of mind. “Although it’s too late for my sons and daughters, I’ll focus on trying to make sure all my grandsons and granddaughters can go to school. I feel it’s their new hope to have a better life.”

Like Gabriel, there are millions of children worldwide who are at risk of statelessness. To find out more about how you can make a difference to the lives of people like her, join UNHCR’s #IBelong Campaign to End Statelessness in 10 years.