Thursday, 23 October 2014

UNHCR 2014 Statelessness Research Award interviews... Caia Vlieks

"My research experiences during this project have been great. For me it was a perfect combination of doing truly legal research – studying case law of my favorite Court – and at the same time being able to use my own creativity – linking the interpretations of the Court to determination of a person’s statelessness – in order to contribute to the body of knowledge on the issue of statelessness and hopefully help stateless persons in claiming their rights in legal proceedings"

In this series of blog posts, we will be asking the students honoured in this year's UNHCR Award for Statelessness Research about their experiences studying the phenomenon on statelessness and their research findings. First in the series is Ms. Caia Vlieks, whose masters thesis entitled "A European human rights obligation for statelessness determination?", written in completion of her LLM in International Human Rights Law at Tilburg University (the Netherlands), was chosen by the Jury as the Best Research in the Graduate Category.

Could you summarise, in 2 or 3 sentences, what your research was about?
My research explored whether it is possible to distil an obligation for states to determine a person’s statelessness from the European Convention on Human Rights. More specifically, the research project assessed the case law of the European Court of Human Rights on the articles of the Convention that have the clearest links with determination of statelessness. These are Article 3 (the prohibition of torture), Article 8 (the right to respect for private and family life), Article 13 (the right to an effective remedy) and Article 14 (the prohibition of torture).

What first got you interested in the problem of statelessness?
It was during the first year of my Research Master in Law at Tilburg University that I heard about statelessness. Credits go to the staff of the Statelessness Program at Tilburg University, who actively gave guest lectures during, for instance, a course on human rights law. Initially, my interest for the problem of statelessness focused on stateless Roma, but I learned that there are more groups affected by statelessness. What caught me was the legal limbo stateless persons find themselves in, and the grave consequences that this can have. Also, I discovered that there are many more legal aspects of statelessness have not been the topic of research, making it an even more interesting and deserving of further research.

Why did you choose this particular research topic?
As my knowledge on the topic of statelessness grew, I became fascinated by the definition of a stateless person in international law. This definition says that a stateless person is “a person who is not considered as a national by any state under the operation of its law”. However, only when is established that a stateless person is a stateless person, ergo a stateless person under the aforementioned definition, that person can rely on the specific rights for stateless persons. As such, statelessness determination appears to be prerequisite for enjoyment of specific rights for stateless persons. I therefore decided I wanted to consider statelessness determination in my research. As the European Convention on Human Rights has been a legal document that inspired me throughout my studies, I decided to explore whether this instrument contains an (implicit) obligation for states to determine a person’s statelessness.

Could you briefly describe how you went about your research? E.g. did you base it on existing sources – and were they easy to find? Did you do fieldwork or interviews – and what was that like?
I based my research on case law of the European Court of Human Rights and tried to link existing cases to the issues that stateless persons encounter in their daily lives and which are related to the fact that their statelessness has not been determined/recognized. To be able to do this, I informed myself about the situations of stateless persons, for instance using the ‘Mapping Statelessness in …’-reports of UNHCR. Furthermore, I did not only use case law, but also commentaries on the Convention and the interpretation methods of the Court, as well as commentaries on specific cases. To this end, I conducted a literature and case law searches and studies. I found the more general commentaries on the interpretations of the Court to be particularly helpful, as these could point me to interesting lines of reasoning for my research and landmark cases.

What was the greatest challenge you had to deal with in undertaking your research?
The greatest challenge was probably to make a selection of case law and being creative in finding possibilities for linking the Court’s line of reasoning to stateless determination. The amount of case law is overwhelming and it was a challenge not to get lost therein. In this process, the focus of my research on statelessness determination helped me to zoom in on the proper cases.

Could you briefly summarise your main findings or conclusions – or what you think is the most important outcome of your research?
By analyzing the four articles of the Convention with the clearest links to statelessness determination, my research sheds light on whether this Convention obliges states to determine statelessness. First of all, the study shows that statelessness is an issue that is to be taken into account in considerations regarding any of these articles. However, the extent to which varies. For instance, under Articles 3 and 8 of the Convention, expulsion and removal are issues that trigger an obligation for statelessness determination in particular. In other circumstances, for example involving Article 13, it may be unlikely that the Court obliges a state to really determine statelessness, because the consequences of statelessness can be taken into account without putting a label of ‘statelessness’ on them. Yet, it is important to emphasize that the analysis demonstrates that statelessness can play a role in considerations involving each of the Articles. This evidences that statelessness, and therefore, the determination thereof, is an issue that states should concern all States Parties to the Convention in order to fulfil their obligations under – at least – Articles 3, 8, 13 and 14 thereof.

Have you found it rewarding to research statelessness – why / why not?
My research experiences during this project have been great. For me it was a perfect combination of doing truly legal research – studying case law of my favorite Court – and at the same time being able to use my own creativity – linking the interpretations of the Court to determination of a person’s statelessness – in order to contribute to the body of knowledge on the issue of statelessness and hopefully help stateless persons in claiming their rights in legal proceedings. What was particularly rewarding was that the European Network on Statelessness (ENS) took an interest in my research. Recently, ENS’s first discussion paper was published, which is based on my Master’s Thesis. It deals with possibilities for litigating for the obligation to determine statelessness under the European Convention on Human Rights. I am very grateful for this, as my research will now reach even more people working on the issue of statelessness, including persons who litigate on behalf of stateless persons.

What tips would you give to students who are getting involved in statelessness research to help them? E.g. are there particular questions you think they should be looking at or methodological issues they should consider?
When doing legal research like I did, I sometimes felt that I was working a bit far from practice – what stateless persons experience in their daily lives – and it made me wonder whether my research could truly contribute to a better life for them. I therefore think it is important to remember that statelessness is an issue that affects over 10 million people around the globe, and that all types of innovative and creative research, also legal research, are most welcome if we want to protect them and, in the end, eradicate statelessness.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

UNHCR 2014 Statelessness Research Award interviews... Jason Tucker

"Statelessness challenged my preconceived notions about citizenship, which I naively assumed everyone had. Statelessness facilitated a new way to consider citizenship, the nation-state and global citizenship. However, as I learnt more and encountered the devastation that statelessness causes to people’s lives, what began as an intellectual challenge, quickly turned into an all consuming cause".

In this series of blog posts, we will be asking the students honoured in this year's UNHCR Award for Statelessness Research about their experiences studying the phenomenon on statelessness and their research findings. First in the series is Dr Jason Tucker, whose doctoral thesis entitled "
Challenging the tyranny of citizenship: Statelessness in Lebanon", which earned him his PhD at the Department of Social and Political Sciences of the University of Bath (United Kingdom), was chosen by the Jury as the Best Research in the Doctoral Category.

Could you summarise, in 2 or 3 sentences, what your research was about?

Nation-states, are a relevantly new concept. They are fluid, arbitrarily conceived and being constantly contested. Similarly, citizenship, as a legal bond between and individual and a state, can be seen in the same light. Statelessness, it is argued in my research, is a consequence of the linking of these two much contested concepts. By viewing the nation-state, citizenship and global citizenship through the eyes of those trying to address statelessness, we gain a more nuanced understanding of them individually as well as their relationship.

What first got you interested in the problem of statelessness?

I was doing research on Sudanese refugees in Cairo in 2010. The women I was working with could not access their consulate, register the births of their children and didn’t even have refugee status. Later, on learning about the succession of South Sudan, I began to consider the impact this would have on these women. How would they claim/confirm their citizenship? Would it be in Sudan or South Sudan? Would they have a choice? And what would happen if they ended up with no citizenship at all?

At the time there was very little written about statelessness, and trying to grapple with the idea provided an irresistible intellectual challenge. It challenged my preconceived notions about citizenship, which I naively assumed everyone had. Statelessness facilitated a new way to consider citizenship, the nation-state and global citizenship. However, as I learnt more and encountered the devastation that statelessness causes to people’s lives, what began as an intellectual challenge, quickly turned into an all consuming cause.

Why did you choose this particular research topic?

Lebanon, with many stateless populations, provided a rich empirical setting to undertake my research. It also allowed me to include the stateless Palestinians, who at the time were peripheral in statelessness debates. I am glad to see that this is changing slightly as of late. Empirical richness was needed as the research was exploratory, and required contextual complexity and various large stateless groups with differing claims to compare. Further to this, while there was some information about statelessness in Lebanon, much more information was, and still is, needed. It is a vast problem in the country, a problem that is being insufficiently tackled.

Could you briefly describe how you went about your research? E.g. did you base it on existing sources – and were they easy to find? Did you do fieldwork or interviews – and what was that like?

Global citizenship was the main theoretical current in my research. So initially it was to the abundant literature on this that I turned. However, a theme soon emerged, one that I thought was in danger of weakening the foundations of the various global citizenship theories. People who act as global citizens were implicitly or explicitly assumed to have citizenship of a state/political community in both modern and more classical conceptualisations. The contemporary models see citizenship of a nation-state as a means to judge a person’s act of citizenship as one that is global, having an expanded moral obligation beyond their nation-state into the trans-national/global realm. The stateless had not been adequately considered, so 10 million people in the world could not act as global citizens under many of the dominant theories. If global citizenship excludes the stateless, how can it be global?

This, however, did not lead to my rejection of global citizenship, in which I place great value. A new approach was therefore needed to overcome these theoretical concerns. By considering global citizenship through the eyes of those addressing statelessness in Lebanon, some of whom are stateless, I was able to provide a new theoretical approach to assessing acts of global citizenship. I spent three months in Lebanon undertaking interviews, participant observation and engaging with the many stateless communities and key actors.

What was the greatest challenge you had to deal with in undertaking your research?

Initially it was the lack of existing literature on statelessness. However, this provided an opportunity as well as a challenge, as there was a gap that needed filling. The work available at the time could be divided into legal analysis, which often left out the human element, or work on the human element that often ignored the legal analysis, and as a consequence labelled many groups stateless, who actually were not.

This division was never more obvious than when presenting my research. When speaking to those in the social sciences they would often question why I had such a ridged legal definition of who is stateless. When speaking to lawyers they would wonder why I treated citizenship and the nation-state as such ambiguous and arbitrary terms. The middle ground, linking the human and the legal was a challenging and highly rewarding place to be. 

Could you briefly summarise your main findings or conclusions – or what you think is the most important outcome of your research?

The main findings on a theoretical level was a new means by which we can conceptualise global citizenship that includes the stateless. However, the more pragmatic findings were of greater interest to me. Statelessness highlights the weakness of the current ‘ownership’ of citizenship by nation-states.  This is a relatively modern link, and I shifted the burden of justification for discussing the concept of citizenship outside of the nation-state, on to those who assume this to be citizenship's natural place. In fact, citizenship does not have a natural place within the nation-state. Nation-states have laid claim to it and present the current system as if it was ahistorical. But the existence of statelessness highlights that this is by no means a natural place for citizenship to be. Nothing shows this more clearly than protracted cases of statelessness, where generation after generation languish outside of the nation-state system. Statelessness, is a consequence of this flawed relationship, and highlights the weaknesses of the current nation-state system. To strengthen itself, it is argued in the research, the nation-state system, individually and collectively, should look to end statelessness.

What tips would you give to students who are getting involved in statelessness research to help them? E.g. are there particular questions you think they should be looking at or methodological issues they should consider?

I would advise to look at it using an inter-disciplinary approach. It seems like a buzzword now, but I think there is enormous value in it for understanding statelessness. This is because it stems from a legal phenomenon, however its impacts are human and have a significant impact from the level of the individual, their family, their community, the countries they reside in and the international community. To tackle statelessness we need more research, a greater level of understanding of the causes and consequences, and this is most achievable if we embrace varied and diverse perspectives. 

Friday, 17 October 2014

GUEST POST: "A small step, perhaps, but a move in the right direction to help 600,000 people find somewhere to call home"

This is how CNN reported on the European Network on Statelessness (ENS) campaign to protect stateless persons in Europe after we handed over our online petition at an event in the European Parliament on Tuesday evening. Aside from pleasant surprise that CNN had picked up on our campaign, it struck me as a pretty good description of what we as a Network have managed to achieve over the last year since the launch of our campaign in October 2013.
You can never properly evaluate the impact of a campaign in its immediate aftermath but some positives conclusions can already be drawn about the campaign’s contribution to the fast accelerating emergence of statelessness as an issue finally attracting widespread international attention. It’s hugely encouraging that over 7,000 individuals from across Europe have made the effort to sign our online petition calling for:
1)      All European States to accede to the 1954 Statelessness Convention
2)      All European states to introduce a functioning statelessness determination procedure
It’s true that in the larger scheme of things, this signature count is not so high compared to some other online petitions (e.g. which relate to issues attracting mass media coverage or that are fuelled by organisations with weighty communications machinery which ENS could only dream about). So it’s actually accurate and in no way belittling for CNN to describe the campaign as “a small step, perhaps” but “a move in the right direction to help 600,000 people find somewhere to call home”. It’s certainly true that we need to take many more and much bigger strides if we are to truly address the situation of not only Europe’s 600,000 stateless but also the estimated 10 million persons across the globe who are afflicted by this man-made phenomenon.
But 7,000 signatures is undoubtedly an impressive figure when you consider that statelessness has for decades been a niche and largely forgotten issue. Factor in also that our campaign period has coincided with ENS transitioning into an independent charity (and all the work that this entails) and the limited resources at our disposal, we can be rightly proud of our efforts. So now is a good moment to say a massive thank you to all our members who supported the campaign as well as to those many other organisations outside our immediate Network (too many to mention here) who helped disseminate our petition.
And beyond shedding a much needed spotlight on the statelessness issue in a broader sense, there are already some encouraging signs of tangible impact through reforms announced in two of the countries which ENS prioritised in its campaign activities, namely Italy and the Netherlands. At an event organised in Rome by ENS member the Italian Refugee Council, the Italian government committed by the end of the year to table a draft law aimed at simplifying and improving the existing administrative procedure to recognise the status of statelessness. In the Netherlands, growing pressure from civil society organisations, UNHCR, the National Human Rights Institute, the Advisory Council on Migration Affairs and practicing lawyers led to the recognition by the competent ministry in September 2014 that a statelessness determination procedure is needed and the announcement that the ministry will work towards its establishment.  In other countries such as Ireland, Poland and Slovakia the campaign impact fell short of such firm commitments but observers described increased awareness having created a dialogue to progress reform in the coming years.
Tuesday’s event hosted by Jean Lambert MEP in the European Parliament was the culmination of the ENS campaign, and featured presentations by UNHCR Europe Bureau Director, Vincent Cochetel, and the award-winning photographer, Greg Constantine, who screened a photo essay on statelessness in the Netherlands (supported by ENS and the Tilburg Statelessness Programme). The petition was formally received by Cecilia Wickstrom MEP, Chair of the Parliament’s Petitions Committee, who made an impassioned acceptance speech which bodes well for future influence the Petitions Committee can hopefully  bring to bear on other EU institutions in terms of stepping up their engagement on statelessness. It was also encouraging to see the room packed with over 60 people, including approximately 10 MEPs who had taken time out of their busy schedules in order to attend the event. The end of the ENS campaign has also been (or will be) marked by national-level events organised by ENS members in Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Poland and Slovakia. The ENS campaign day of action was covered not only by CNN but also by Thomson Reuters.
Recognising that statelessness is often dismissed as an impenetrably technical and legal anomaly, an important aspect of our communications work has been to try to put a human face on the issue, including through the production of several short films by ENS or its members. A key element of this approach was the commissioning of a short animation Everyone has the right to a nationality which proved hugely successful in raising awareness about the plight of stateless migrants in Europe and in encouraging petition signatures. Just one illustration of this is that UNHCR’s Facebook post of the animated film attracted almost 500 likes in a day. The petition and animation were also featured in mailings by ECRE, ICVA, IDC, APRRN and the Forced Migration Current Awareness Blog to name but a few. And many ENS members placed the campaign prominently on their own websites and/or tweeted, posted or emailed the petition to their networks. These combined efforts saw the petition being mailed out to thousands of professional and personal contacts, and the animation has now been viewed over 5000 times on YouTube alone. ENS has also seen over 400 new likes of its Facebook page, and its mailing list has grown exponentially.
From the start the petition was presented and disseminated on social media along with first hand testimonies from stateless persons hosted on the ENS website. A feature on these snapshots of stateless people was published in English and French in Forced Migration Review with a link to the petition. Twenty shorter testimonies were also gathered through research by ENS members in 11 European countries and published in a new report Still Stateless, Still Suffering which was formally launched in the event in the European Parliament on Tuesday. While just a small snapshot of Europe’s total stateless population, these too long unheard voices speak powerfully to the human impact that statelessness has on people living in Europe, including destitution, long term immigration detention and being stuck in indefinite limbo unable to be removed but equally unable to belong or contribute to scoiety.
The campaign has garnered media coverage in several languages across many European countries. In the UK there have been articles in respected publications with broad readerships such as The Independent Thomson Reuters and The Equal Times. The issue has been widely covered in the Slovak Republic, with two articles published in Slovak on major news websites; Hlavné Správy and actuá In Belgium, various articles were published, including in the influential and popular Mo Magazine. The petition also benefitted from media coverage across the Netherlands, with Dutch articles featuring on the Nederlands and The issue of statelessness was given radio coverage on 35 local stations and 2 national stations in Ireland via Newstalk, and two articles were published in It was also covered by Il Mondo in Italy. More recently, the Press Agency of the Slovak Republic picked up on the campaign in an interview with Katarina Fajnorová of the Human Rights League Slovakia. In Poland, the issue has been raised in articles published by both tvn24 and And many more besides.
But after taking a brief moment to pat ourselves on the back, now we move on. We must build on this increased awareness, not only in those countries (such as Italy and the Netherlands) where reform is now underway but also in the majority of European states which are yet to make any real movement towards introducing statelessness determination procedures. And despite some positive noises at a recent UNHCR roundtable in Warsaw, Poland (along with Estonia, Cyprus and Malta) is yet to even ratify the 1954 Statelessness Convention despite the EU having pledged in 2012 that all Member States would do so.
ENS has set up a working group of member organisations to take forward this work over the next two years and in support of our campaign call that all European states introduce a functioning statelessness determination procedure by the end of 2016. In this period we will also fast track a programme of work aimed at ending the arbitrary detention of stateless migrants. And in November we will launch our next campaign seeking to end childhood statelessness in Europe. We hope this will represent a valuable contribution to UNHCR’s ambitious ten year campaign to eradicate statelessness across the globe. Daunting though that objective is, hopefully the success with the ENS campaign puts a spring in our step as we work towards this.
Chris Nash, Director, European Network on Statelessness
[this blog originally appeared on the website of ENS here:

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

From Statelessness Programme to Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion

After three rewarding, enjoyable and successful years building up an international portfolio of research, training and outreach work on statelessness within the Statelessness Programme at Tilburg Law School, we are pleased to announce that from the 1st of January 2015, we will continue our work under the flag of the newly established Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion. The Institute is an independent non-profit organisation that aims to lead an integrated, inter-disciplinary response to the injustice of statelessness and exclusion. Along with the Statelessness Programme’s Laura van Waas and Zahra Albarazi, the Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion is also co-founded by Amal de Chickera who has been working on statelessness for the Equal Rights Trust in London. The threefold mission of the Institute is to be:

-          An Expert source of impartial, trusted and interdisciplinary research, analysis, information and education on statelessness and disenfranchisement around the world;
-          A Partner who builds connections across disciplines between people concerned about and/or affected by statelessness and disenfranchisement; and
-          A Catalyst for challenging perceptions on statelessness, strengthening protection and forging inclusion and participation.

What will change?
The Statelessness Programme will no longer continue when the Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion becomes operational on the 1st of January. This means that if you want to continue to follow our work or be involved in our activities, you will have to visit the Institute’s own website: If you currently receive the Statelessness Programme newsletter, you will automatically be signed up for the Institute’s mailing list but the new updates will come with a new look and new logo. Our new and more ambitious mission, as well as the involvement of co-founder Amal de Chickera, means that we will strengthen and expand our work so that we can strive to form an effective bridge between academia and civil society / UN / policymakers, but also help new actors to get involved in exploring and finding solutions to statelessness. Our independence will allow us to be more visible, flexible and able to respond to the needs of those working to address statelessness around the world.

What will not change?
Our dedication to the issue of statelessness remains unchanged and this will continue to be the central focus of our work. We will continue to be affiliated with Tilburg University and be present on campus: we will still teach the undergraduate elective ‘Nationality, Statelessness and Human Rights’ and be available for the supervision of bachelor and masters dissertations, as well as to offer student internships when we can. We will continue to offer our statelessness summer and regional courses to professionals and academics working in this field. We will continue to work within and support the efforts of the European Network on Statelessness to improve the response to statelessness within Europe. We will continue to play a role in the International Campaign to End Gender Discriminatory Nationality Laws. And, perhaps most importantly, we will continue to be a source of trusted and impartial research and analysis on statelessness and related issues.

What’s next?

The Institute is currently engaged in a process of consultation, strategic planning and fund-raising, including through a crowd-funding campaign, to cover its start-up costs. To learn more about the Institute, visit its website: and its campaign page: You can support us by spreading the word about the Institute within your networks and sharing our campaign page through social media. 

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

300 participants, 70 countries, 1 topic: The First Global Forum on Statelessness

Reassuring and invigorating – giving a sense that, together, progress really is achievable on statelessness

A unique opportunity to interact with experts who are normally dispersed all around the world

A chance to look at old questions in new ways and to pose new questions that have not been explored before

These are some of the sentiments expressed by participants of the First Global Forum on Statelessness which was convened by Tilburg University and UNHCR from 15-17 September 2014. After two years of planning and preparations, 300 participants from 70 different countries came together at the Peace Palace in the Hague to talk about one topic: how to solve statelessness. With more than a hundred presentations and many more ideas and experiences exchanged during the conference sessions as well as the coffee and lunch breaks, it is impossible to do justice to this event and to everyone who contributed to it in a single blog. But, it is also impossible to resist the temptation to share some of my own highlights from the Forum, so here are just a few of the things that stood out for me…


Even as we drove a rental van full of conference paraphernalia through the gates of the Peace Palace the Friday before the event to set everything up, the ‘First Global Forum on Statelessness’ still didn’t feel real. What would the venue look like once 300 people arrived? Would they indeed arrive? What would they expect from the Forum? Would we be able to meet those expectations? With such a diverse audience, not just in geographical terms, but also in the exciting mix of academics, NGOs, governments, UN, legal practitioners, stateless and formerly stateless persons, journalists and others, would the conference actually “work”? Would our ideas be relevant to one another, would we feel a sense of shared purpose and would we even find a common language to talk about the issue? These are the things our team wondered about quietly as we busied ourselves stuffing conference bags, loading the resource table with books and brochures and setting up the registration desk.

When the Monday morning of the Forum arrived, the feeling of anticipation and of nervous excitement only grew as participants queued (for rather too long, sorry about that!) to pick up their registration materials. Slowly but surely the foyer became populated with a mixture of familiar and new faces, the group swelling to an impressive crowd by the time the opening session began. I had the honour to address the plenary first and briefly welcome everyone to the event before UNHCR Director of International Protection, Volker Türk, gave his keynote speech – and I had given careful thought to what I should say for the occasion. As I climbed the few steps to the podium and took my place behind the microphone though, the force of 300 pairs of eyes, all filled with their own look of anticipation and all fixed on me, made any opening words I had come up with slip my mind entirely. For a heartbeat I worried that I would find nothing to say at all to the waiting crowd, but instead I shared the one simple thought that consumed me in that moment: that it was quite a thing to see so many people gathered to show their commitment and give their time to trying to address this long-neglected problem of statelessness (or something less coherent perhaps, but that was the gist of it). Pausing to take it all in created a picture in my mind that I will cherish. To me it marked the end of any and all residual feeling that to work on statelessness is a lonely profession! And, for me at least, that was when anticipation made way for pure enjoyment of the long-awaited opportunity to listen, to talk, to question and to debate the many different challenges and opportunities around statelessness that we face today.     


Throughout the three densely packed and intense days of the Global Forum, there was a palpable “buzz” to the atmosphere. Whether it was because it was the first such event, or the setting of the Peace Palace basked in glorious late-summer sunshine, or the backdrop of the imminent launch of the ambitious UNHCR-led campaign to end statelessness by 2024, or simply the chance to dive straight into real and meaningful discussions about problems and solutions (without the often necessary precursor of explaining what statelessness is or exploring basic questions around causes and impacts), or a combination of these factors… there was a sense of this being an event packed with not just content, but also meaning. It is without a doubt that, although the participation of persons directly affected by statelessness was sadly limited by logistical constraints, the voices of those stateless and formerly stateless persons who were able to attend and share their stories contributed greatly to this sense of a very meaningful gathering. Many people I spoke to about what they would take away with them from the Global Forum talked of the inspiration they drew for meeting or listening to the contributions of Railya, Dipu, Lara, Aor, Hasan and Juliana. It reminded us all that we need to take more time to understand not just the difficulties faced by stateless persons, but also how they experience those difficulties, how they perceive their situation and what change they would like to see or contribute to. While it will remain a challenge to convene people affected by statelessness because that very status often stands in the way of travel it is absolutely vital to do more to include them in discussing and working towards solutions – not just for them, but with them.

The Global Forum was not just a site for inspiration, but also for innovation. So many of the presentations made – from the keynotes to the panels to the poster sessions – explored new dimensions of the problem of statelessness. So many people have arrived at the issue from such different directions, from an interest in the regulation of international surrogacy arrangements, to a concern about the growing use of nationality policy as a ‘tool’ in the fight against terrorism, to a desire to better understand how and why irregular or forced migration are prompting statelessness… Posters looked at country situations we have long known little to nothing about, like statelessness in Madagascar, Saudi Arabia, Cambodia and Iran. The occasion of the Forum was also seized upon as an opportunity to launch or announce new statelessness initiatives. The launch of the new Cambridge University Press publication ‘Nationality and Statelessness under International Law’ was celebrated – as Professor Linda Kerber’s generous and beautifully crafted introduction pointed out, exactly 55 years after Paul Weis’ work of a similar name was published just as the UN was then debating a convention to eliminate statelessness (i.e. what became the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness). The re-launch of the European Network on Statelessness, a thriving civil society network of organisations and individual experts committed to addressing statelessness in Europe, was celebrated as the Network has just completed the important step of establishing as an independent Charitable Incorporated Organisation with a revised structure and ambitious plans for the future. And the establishment of the Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion was also announced and celebrated, with the beginning of a consultation process through a ‘wall of BIG IDEAS’ and collecting feedback on online support for future networking and information sharing on statelessness that the Institute hopes to set up. This Institute, by the way, when it starts its work in earnest on 1 January 2015, will be my exciting new home and will continue and build on the work of the Tilburg University Statelessness Programme which is being reinvented, strengthened and expanded through this new, independent initiative – but more on that on another occasion.

Participating in the Global Forum was, in itself, a motivating experience, but for some there was an added incentive – or perhaps, better said, reward – for the work they have put into this issue. The 2014 UNHCR Awards for Statelessness Research were presented during the closing plenary, honouring the best student research on statelessness at undergraduate, graduate and doctoral levels completed in 2013-2014. Last year, when these awards were inaugurated, the ceremony was a virtual one as the recipients were spread out in different locations around the world. This time, however, the Forum had brought so many people working on statelessness together in a single place that as luck would have it, all of the award recipients could be addressed in person. Professor René de Groot did a masterful job of presenting the Jury Report and delivering the award certificates on behalf of the team of international academic experts who assessed the nominated work. Two students from Tilburg University were among the winners, including one of the Global Forum’s conference hosts in fact – Maria Jose Recalde Vela – whose undergraduate thesis explored the relationship between identity and nationality, from a legal and socio-psychological perspective. But it was particularly special to see the prize for best doctoral research on statelessness presented for the first time, awarded to Dr Jason Tucker for his PhD thesis completed at the Department of Social and Political Sciences of the University of Bath, entitled Challenging the tyranny of citizenship: Statelessness in Lebanon. Next month, a series of special blog posts will be dedicated to the winners of the 2014 UNHCR Awards for Statelessness Research and we also intend to post a video of the award ceremony when this is ready. Meanwhile, I hope that even if there may not be a similar occasion at which to present the certificates in the years to come, the awards will continue to motivate students to contribute to identifying and investigating critical questions in the field of statelessness.

While 300 people gathered in the grounds of the Peace Palace for the Global Forum, many more followed the event in some way from a distance. Participants at the Forum shared some of their experiences and lots of snapshots from the event through twitter and facebook, using the hashtag #statelessness2014 (more than 500 tweets went out with this hashtag over the 3 days of the conference). Emma Batha, journalist with the Thomson Reuters Foundation, not only participated in the media panel at the Forum but also filed a series of stories before and during the event, helping to highlight some of the current challenges as well as to draw attention back to the human impact of statelessness. Several Dutch newspapers, including Trouw and NRC Next were prompted by the Global Forum to run their own stories about statelessness and there was some national radio coverage. The Guardian, Newsweek, Channel News Asia and Al Jazeera’s Inside Story also all reported on the issue and the Forum. This dissemination of information through the media and the enthusiastic sharing of photos and experiences by participants of the Forum within their own personal and professional networks creates an important ripple-effect, generating a better understanding of the phenomenon of statelessness within a much wider circle of people. Already we have had lots of additional sign-ups to the post-conference mailing list and we will now take up the task of developing the space and the tools for a continued conversation on the issue.

That leaves me to end this blog by saying a massive thank you to everyone who contributed to make the First Global Forum on Statelessness a success, whether it was by sharing your expertise, posing a question, spreading the word or in another way. And most importantly, let’s stay in touch!  

Dr Laura van Waas, Senior Researcher and Manager of the Statelessness Programme; Co-founder of the new Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion