West Africa acts to end statelessness


West Africa acts to end statelessness

Namibian, 10 May 2017

DAKAR – West Africa has become the first region in the world to adopt an action plan to end statelessness, aiming to help more than one million people without a nationality gain identity papers with new laws and better data, human rights experts said on Monday.
Stateless people, sometimes referred to as legal ghosts, are not accepted as citizens by any country, which means they are denied basic rights - leaving many unable to work or access healthcare – and are vulnerable to exploitation and traffickers.

State officials and representatives of the regional bloc Ecowas and the UN refugee agency UNHCR met in Gambia to adopt a plan to improve the lives of at least one million people thought to be stateless, or at risk of statelessness, in West Africa. Many West Africans are left stateless by laws which prevent women passing their nationality to their children, and a lack of birth registrations, while an absence of data and education hinder efforts to combat statelessness, according to the UNHCR.

“There is a unique political will to eradicate statelessness in West Africa,” UNHCR senior regional protection officer Emmanuelle Mitte told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“Countries are looking to protect stateless people and reform legislation so no one is excluded from obtaining a nationality,” she said from the event in Gambia.

At least 50 000 people in countries including Ivory Coast, Benin and Mali have received identity documents or birth certificates since 15-member Ecowas signed a declaration in January 2015 that it would work to end statelessness by 2024.

– Thomson Reuters Foundation