Friday, December 9, 2011

Day 2 of the Conference Brings Major Results

Guterres to countries: "Nice work, y'all!"
Its still too soon to judge, but it would appear that the UNHCR conference in Geneva this week was a huge success in garnering increased protection of stateless persons and refugees. Its pretty shocking, actually, how many states were willing to pledge to change their citizenship laws, accede to the Statelessness or Refugee Conventions, or to make asylum procedures or court proceedings more fair. I'm guessing UNHCR staff are asking themselves right now, "Why didn't we do this years ago?"

Let's take a look at some of the big announcements coming out yesterday:
  •  The following nations will accede to BOTH statelessness conventions (1954 and 1961) : the Gambia, Haiti, Moldova, Sierra Leone, South Africa, South Sudan, Tanzania, Ukraine, and Yemen. Remember, 1961 confers citizenship on children born stateless in the signatory nation, so this is truly very significant.
  •  Serbia joined the 1961 Convention (HUGE) as did Zimbabwe, Columbia, Paraguay, Mozambique, Burundi, Guinea, and Belgium.
  • Liberia and Senegal both pledged to amend their laws to allow citizenship to pass through the mother, as well as the father. (A huge strike against statelessness and legal invisibility in those nations.)
  • The US made a whole range of pledges, totaling 28, including providing refugee minors with cultural education, working to eliminate the 1-year filing deadline on asylum applications, promote pro-bono legal assistance for undocumented migrant youth, and provide additional services to LBQT asylum seekers and survivors of gender-based violence.
  • Australia, Brazil, and 6 other countries pledged to improve methods of identifying stateless population. (Wow, way to go all out there, Australia. Would have liked to see some pledges on the asylum-seeker debacle, but maybe next time)
All in all, over 60 countries made pledges, and as High Commish Guterres noted, the conference marked a "quantum leap" on the issue of statelessness. Despite the very hard work being done on the issue all over the world by smaller agencies and non-profits, today's results are of the sort that can only be accomplished with massive coordination and international pressure. A conference like this shows us that its not time to give up on international cooperation just yet.

Congratulations, UNHCR! The future is looking a lot brighter for stateless persons and refugees.

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