GENEVA (AN) — The U.N. refugee agency's chief Filippo Grandi and its goodwill ambassador, Cate Blanchett, appealed to governments on Monday to set aside nationalism and end statelessness for around 10 million people worldwide.
The campaign by the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, or UNHCR, sought to highlight the threats that rising nationalism accompanied by racism, xenophobia and intolerance pose to accomplishing a 2024 deadline for eradicating statelessness.
The #IBelong campaign launched by United Nations agencies and others in November 2014 aims to end statelessness by 2024. A U.N. General Assembly resolution and a conference held by the Economic Community of West African States and UNHCR also gained support for the goal. Stateless people, who lack citizenship in any country, usually suffer from discriminatory laws or live in areas divided by international borders.
“As recently as five years ago, public awareness of statelessness, and the harm it causes, was still negligible. That is changing, and today the prospect of ending statelessness entirely has never been closer,” Grandi said in a statement.
“And yet the progress is far from assured," he said, citing threats to around 1 million Rohingya Muslims who fled Myanmar and 1.9 million uprooted people in India’s northeastern state of Assam. "Damaging forms of nationalism, and the manipulation of anti-refugee and migrant sentiment — these are powerful currents internationally that risk putting progress into reverse."
'Invisibility' for millions
Blanchett, the two-time Academy Award winning actress with dual nationality in Australia and the United States, pointed to one of her passports, a credit card and a Medicare card while emphasizing how hard it would be not to have such identity documents.
"It's a condition of invisibility," she said, urging nations to fix the problem by changing their laws. "Stateless people are unseen and unheard."
Blanchett said the plight of the Rohingya refugees results from problems that developed "decade after decade after decade" into an international crisis.
“The scale of the problem caused by the stateless of the Rohingya people is overwhelming,” she said. “I think we should learn as a species from the enormity of this problem."
Nations such as Dominican Republic, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Kuwait and Thailand host large numbers of people who lack citizenship in any country. Carol Thompson O’Connell, an acting U.S. assistant secretary of state, said every country should play a role in ending statelessness.
"We can get to zero stateless persons globally," she said in a statement, "but only if member states take bold steps and avoid creating new situations of statelessness."