Thursday – Some 50 representatives took part in a roundtable conference on Wednesday, organised by UNHCR, The UN Refugee Agency, aimed at raising awareness on the issue of statelessness in South Sudan. The gathering marked the 7th Anniversary of the I Belong Campaign to Eradicate Statelessness by 2024, launched by UNHCR to ensure nobody is left behind.
The event, which focused on nationality documentation and the risk of statelessness, brought together a diverse group from South Sudan’s Directorate of Civil Registry, Nationality, Passports, and Immigration (DCRNPI), civil society representatives, legal practitioners, academics, journalists, artists as well as partner organisations and members of the international community.
With some 90 percent of the population lacking in essential documentation, the risk of statelessness is a major issue in South Sudan, with a dramatic scale up of awareness on the implications needed.
“Without a nationality, peace and development is at stake,” said Juliette Murekeyisoni, UNHCR Deputy Representative to South Sudan. “Difficulties accessing education and employment; restricted property rights; lack of opportunities to own and register a business; limited access to a bank account or a loan; inability to vote or participate in elections and in some cases, the threat of extortion, detention or expulsion can trap people in a lifetime of obstacles and disappointment.”
Participants stressed the need for creative approaches to identify and profile people at risk of statelessness, as well as strengthen existing mechanisms provided for in the Nationality Act to recognise and/ or provide essential documentation. A major theme also included the need for South Sudan to align its policies with international standards, including accession to the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness.
Since the launch of UNHCR’s #IBelong Campaign, political will and momentum to tackle statelessness by governments and other partners has been growing. The Republic of South Sudan made five pledges to address statelessness at the High-Level Segment and Global Refugee Forum, has fulfilled one and is working actively on completing the others. UNHCR has carried out training and capacity-building for DCRNPI, support to vulnerable groups in the procedure of age assessment and acquisition of nationality and advocating for improved legal framework to address statelessness in the country. Since 2012, the Agency has helped more than 16,000 individuals at risk of statelessness in South Sudan to obtain nationality certificates. UNHCR will continue promoting nationality certificates, birth registrations and other nationality documents to those who are entitled to it under the laws of South Sudan.
However, UNHCR cannot do this alone. In order to eradicate statelessness in South Sudan, collective efforts must be redoubled. As noted during the roundtable, “having a nationality is beautiful, it means you belong somewhere.”
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