The COVID-19 pandemic and mitigation measures have had a disproportionate impact on marginalized groups, including stateless populations. From the start of the pandemic, stateless people have experienced particularly striking vulnerabilities as a result of their lack of nationality. In many contexts, stateless people were barred from accessing testing and treatment due to lack of legal status and were excluded from social services, notwithstanding the fact that they faced especially severe socio-economic impacts.1 The loss of livelihoods and limited access to education and other social services have worsened existing inequalities in ways likely to extend beyond the end of the pandemic. In May 2020 UNHCR issued a first policy paper2 on these issues in order to provide information, recommendations and examples of good practice in a number of areas, including access to testing and treatment for stateless people.3 The present paper supplements the May 2020 paper in relation to two subjects, namely, access to vaccines and civil registration.
As COVID-19 vaccines are being rolled out, ensuring equitable distribution across and within countries is a key challenge. Stateless people risk being excluded from national immunization plans regardless of whether their age, health status or role in society would otherwise place them in a priority group.
The issue of access to civil registration in relation to COVID-19 also warrants special attention. More than a year into the pandemic, it has become evident that disruptions in birth registration services have created new risks of statelessness. A number of countries where birth registration was not considered an ‘essential service’ are reporting lower birth registration rates due to the partial or complete suspension of birth registration services as part of mitigation efforts. There are also reports of the discontinuation of birth registration campaigns targeting hard-to-reach populations or populations who for other reasons are unlikely to be covered by regular birth registration services. If resultant backlogs are not prioritized for resolution in the period to come, many children may wind up at risk of statelessness.