The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said it is committed to work with the government of Zimbabwe to ensure no one is left stateless in Zimbabwe. This was said by the UNHCR country representative Shana Kaninda during a dialogue with parliamentarians on nationality and statelessness recently held in Vumba.
A ‘stateless person’ is a person who is not considered as a national by any State under operation of its laws. Kaninda said statelessness is a serious human rights issue citing that there is an estimated 10 to 12million stateless persons in the world.
In 2013 the then UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guteres, called for the “total commitment of the international community to end statelessness” and afterwards in 2014, UNHCR launched the ‘#IBELONG’ campaign with a goal to end statelessness by 2024.
‘”Article15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides that “Everyone has the right to a nationality. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.” Meaning that every individual has the right to legal existence, to belong and enjoy fundamental rights and freedoms, and not be stateless,” said Kaninda.
While most take for granted the fact of having a nationality, for those who do not or cannot prove it, it is often a sentence for a life of discrimination, frustration and despair. Stateless people face immense challenges on a daily basis. Adding that a person who cannot justify his or her nationality is often confronted with serious risks of chain expulsion and random, sometimes indefinite, detention periods.
“When you find yourself without a passport, an identity card, or any way of proving who you are, it would be very difficult for you to get a formal job, to travel, to buy land or participate in everyday life in your community. Legally speaking, you would be invisible, and when you die, your family would not even get a death certificate, just like if you had never existed,” he said.
In March this year Cyclone Idai hit Chimanimani and Chipinge and one of the consequences was loss of national identity and civil documents. “In cooperation with the office of the Registrar General we started issuing civic documentation to those people affected by the cyclone. More than 3000 documents have been issued so far as of last week but the figure is already beyond that,” said Kaninda.
He added that the project is already completed in Chimanimani and have now started in Chipinge. “It is an opportunity for those people to be documented and prevent any statelessness. In the long run there is a risk of statelessness if nothing is done.” said Kaninda
UNHCR Protection Officer(Statelessness) Olivia Mugambi said UNHCR together with Registrar General’s office conducted a survey on the magnitude in terms of those who lost their documentation.
“From there we were able to support the Registrar General operationally and in terms of finances in funding of replacements of these documents. The project started on the 1st of September and is expected to run until December with an information campaign informing individuals to come forward to replace their documentation so that they are able to continue enjoying their rights. UNHCR’s target is to ensure those who were affected by the cyclone do have their documents replaced and do not fall in category of statelessness,” she said.
She said this was important to ensure people do not become stateless in the wake of inadequate financial resources to recover their documents. Cyclone Idai had a devastating effect and we wanted to ensure these people did not become stateless or at risk of becoming stateless, we wanted to ensure that we replace the documents as soon as possible and make sure they continue to access their rights,” said Mugambi.
Chimanimani East legislator Joshua Sacco whose constituency was affected by the cyclone said the assistance they were getting from UN agencies for infrastructure development, food aid and other support from the time of the cyclone until now was has been exceptional , but nonetheless appealed for more support as there is still so much more work to be done.
“I would like to thank UNHCR for supporting the Registrar General’s Department in issuance of documents for the victims of the cyclone. We are very appreciative as it has gone a long way for people to replace their documents even though there is need for further assistance going forward,” said Honourable Sacco.
He however appealed to UNHCR for a second phase of the program. “In Chimanimani for example there are many who were not covered by the first phase and we would want to ask for a second phase to be done so everyone can be documented.” he said.