"Statelessness can be resolved. By working together we can make statelessness a faint memory of a by-gone era" Gillian Triggs, UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner
On 28 October 2021, UNHCR Montenegro, in cooperation with the Ministry of Interior, Embassy of France and United Nations, organized for the first time ever in Montenegro, the International Conference on Statelessness: Best Practices in Montenegro and France, with the financial support from the Joint SDG Fund. The conference was organized in light of the 60th anniversary of the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness and the upcoming 7th anniversary of UNHCR’s #IBelong global campaign to end statelessness by 2024.
Experts from France, the UNHCR, the UN system, the Western Balkans region and Montenegro, including relevant embassies, ministries, international organizations, NGOs and local government representatives, jointly assessed that Montenegro is on a good path to achieve the #IBelong goal of eradicating statelessness by 2024.
The emerging global issues, such as the climate change and the global pandemic, have shown that having a nationality, and all the rights and protections that emanate from it - remain essential for the inclusion in responses to these challenges. Given that stateless persons are not recognized as nationals of any country, and often do not possess any identity documents they have no state protection and no access to basic human rights that people otherwise take for granted.
Ms. Gillian Triggs, UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, in a video address reminded that statelessness is a global issue that affects the lives of millions of people. Ms. Triggs recalled that supporting people to get a nationality enables societies to capitalize on the capacities and talents of all their members. She commended the commitment of the Government of Montenegro to address statelessness, highlighting the establishment of statelessness determination procedures, and thanked the Government of France for sharing the expertise as the EU Member State.
Statelessness can be resolved. Today’s Conference is a vivid example of the determination of some States to solve this problem. It is wonderful to see the continued commitment of the Government of Montenegro in solving the problem of statelessness. By working together, we can make statelessness a faint memory of a by-gone era. -Ms. Gillian Triggs, UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner for Protection
Montenegro has already achieved a lot in its efforts to eradicate statelessness. In 2017, UNHCR, together with the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare identified 607 persons as at risk of statelessness. The Ministry of Interior and UNHCR continued to work closely on finding solutions for each of these persons, and in 2021 brought this number down to 423.
Roma and Egyptians continue to remain at the highest risk of statelessness in Montenegro, as they often neglect the importance of civil registration. Statelessness can be an intergenerational issue, whereby children may ‘inherit’ statelessness from their parents and remain trapped in a legal limbo “from cradle to grave”. According to the Montenegrin national statistical agency MONSTAT, more than 50% of at risk of statelessness/stateless persons in Montenegro are children. Montenegro ameliorated this issue through the introduction of 2015 Law on Non-Contentious proceedings, which facilitates birth registration of persons born outside the national healthcare system. Furthermore, the 2018 Law on Foreigners introduced for the first time ever a statelessness determination procedure (SDP) and so far, 9 persons have been recognized as de jure stateless in Montenegro through this procedure.
Mr. Jean Yves Bouchardy, UNHCR Representative to Montenegro, reaffirmed UNHCR efforts to ensure that no child is born stateless in Montenegro. He commended Montenegro for making significant strides in the application of international standards and the country’s overall efforts in eradicating statelessness. The Representative thanked partners from France for sharing the best practices with Montenegrin counterparts, particularly in areas of citizenship, birth registration and statelessness determination procedures.
UNHCR is fully committed to supporting Montenegro in achieving its goals to eradicate statelessness, which is also an important criterion in the process of country’s accession to the European Union. In the years to come, UNHCR will focus on further strengthening cooperation between Montenegro and the countries of origin of stateless persons, support for the already established good birth registration practices and a more comprehensive use of statelessness determination procedure. -Jean Yves Bouchardy, UNHCR Representative to Montenegro.
Mr. Christian Thimonier, Ambassador of France to Montenegro, reiterated the Embassy’s strong cooperation with UNHCR and the Government of Montenegro. Ambassador alerted that statelessness is deeply rooted in the global context and recalled major hot spots and crises around the world, showing that everybody could become a stateless person. The conference, said Ambassador Thimonier, presents a new impetus for the cooperation of France and Montenegro to tackle such a complex issue as statelessness. He noted that states should continue with the exchange of good practices in statelessness eradication and commended Montenegro for its commitment to sustain its long tradition of multiculturality, tolerance and openness for those forced to flee their homes.
Montenegro, supported by UNHCR, has demonstrated a continuous commitment to reduce and eliminate statelessness by being a party to the 1954 and 1961 statelessness Conventions. In October 2019, at the High-Level Segment on Statelessness in Geneva, Montenegro pledged to persistently improve birth registration and strengthen capacities of the Government institutions to efficiently implement statelessness determination procedure.
Mr. Miroslav Zekovic, Assistant Minister of the Interior of Montenegro, expressed high consideration for UNHCR in Montenegro and the gratitude of the Government for its continuous support in finding lasting solutions for stateless people. He added that the authorities in Montenegro have been dealing with statelessness for more than a decade. The Assistant Minister highlighted the importance of regional cooperation for acceleration of civil procedures in the countries of origin of stateless persons, as well as the importance of strengthening consular services provided by diplomatic representations in Montenegro, particularly for issuance of civil documentation. Mr. Zekovic added that the conference opens the door for the beginning of cooperation with the Republic of France and expressed hope for a UNHCR-supported study visit to France in 2022.
The Conference served as platform for the exchange of best practices between French and Montenegrin experts working in the area of statelessness eradication (government officials, judges, academics). The experts from France, including the Conseil d'Etat, OFPRA, researchers from the Universities of Bordeaux and Lyon and the French Embassy in Montenegro, spoke about the best administrative and judicial practices in the field of statelessness in France, the international standards and the socio-economic rights of stateless persons.
UNHCR’s work on ending statelessness in the country is one of the major pillars of the joint UN Montenegro programme on integrated social protection and employment - called Activate!, which is funded by the UN’s Joint SDG Fund. So far, 992 people, both formerly displaced and internally displaced and those at risk of statelessness, were provided support by UNHCR for legal status regularization under this programme, which aims to enhance the capacities of the social welfare system in Montenegro and support vulnerable people in accessing social protection and employment.