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Sudanese mother wins citizenship for her children after seven-year legal struggle

Her victory comes on the heels of recent positive court rulings and paves the way for her children to continue their education, find work and belong to their country.

Sudan. UNHCR helps family win eight-year battle against statelessness

Hanan Jaber Abdallah (seated at left) poses for a photo with her five children as they hold up their hard-won Sudanese citizenship documents.   © UNHCR/Mohamed Elfatih Elnaiem

When South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in 2011, Hanan Jaber Abdallah had no idea the historic move would make her five children invisible, by rendering them stateless. But like thousands of people with parents of mixed South Sudanese and Sudanese descent, they lost their Sudanese nationality immediately after the split.

Hanan herself is Sudanese, but Sudanese nationality laws did not give mothers the right to automatically pass citizenship on to their children. Her husband, originally from the south of Sudan, was unable to establish his own nationality in either country. And so their children, whose birth certificates said they were born in Sudan, found themselves stateless<.

“I couldn’t pass on my nationality to them,” Hanan said. “We didn’t think they would need another identity document.”

“I could not sleep at night. I was afraid I wouldn’t complete my education.”

It was Hanan’s eldest daughter, Benazir, who first came to the grim realization that she and her siblings were no longer citizens. It was 2012, and Benazir was ready to take her national high school exams but lacked the required ID. Her mother tried to apply for a national identification number for her, but it was rejected by the government’s Civil Registry.

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Benazir was devastated. “I could not sleep at night,” she recalled. “I was afraid I wouldn’t complete my education.”

She continued school, but had to register as a foreigner, as did her younger siblings. Her school fees were more than ten times higher than for Sudanese students, and her family had to borrow money from relatives.

“I even dropped out for a year because my parents could not afford the fees,” Benazir said. “I missed an internship opportunity as a researcher in a government laboratory.”

After learning from a community volunteer that UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, provided legal aid to those facing statelessness, Benazir urged her mother to ask for help. For the next seven years, Hanan’s sole mission was to secure her children’s nationality – and their future. Through her own determination, and support from UNHCR, she learned to navigate the complex legal system, meeting regularly with a lawyer to prepare for court appearances. She visited the Civil Registry at least ten times. But the travel and effort took a toll on her finances and her health. Her children suffered too.

“My heart is full of joy and I feel like a new dawn is breaking.”

A breakthrough came on 15 December 2019, when Hanan finally received the nationality certificate for which she had fought. Her children’s lives immediately changed. Benazir, who had entered university, gained peace of mind, knowing she can get a job when she graduates. Her sister can enter university without paying exorbitant fees. A younger sister in elementary school no longer has to worry about the cost. The entire family told UNHCR they were relieved and felt their dignity had been restored.

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“My heart is full of joy and I feel like a new dawn is breaking in my life,” Hanan said. Even so, she remains determined to continue advocating for mothers in similar circumstances. She shares her story whenever she can, hoping to inspire other women to fight for documentation and a future for their own children.

“Hanan’s perseverance and the legal aid and representation in courts by our partners brought about this change,” said Eman Awad Naser, a UNHCR protection official based in Khartoum. Eman added that Hanan’s resolve impressed officials at the Sudanese Civil Registry, which has helped some 1,300 Sudanese women pass citizenship to their children since 2018. UNHCR, for its part, has provided legal aid to over 500 families who lost their Sudanese nationality and were unable to obtain South Sudanese nationality following South Sudan’s independence in 2011.

Sudan. UNHCR helps family win eight-year battle against statelessness

Upon learning that her children were stateless, Hanan Jaber Abdallah, 43, embarked on a seven-year struggle to secure their Sudanese nationality. Legal support from UNHCR and its partner, and a change in the nationality law, helped her succeed.  © UNHCR/Mohamed Elfatih Elnaiem

Sudan has made strides in changing its nationality laws. However, it remains one of 25 countries that do not yet allow women to pass their nationality on to their children the same way men can. Hanan’s case illustrates how legal, administrative and procedural barriers can thwart mothers like her for years.

Sudan is also a signatory to the 2017 Brazzaville Declaration on Eradication of Statelessness in the Great Lakes Region, which includes 11 commitments to eliminate statelessness. Among them are the reform of nationality-related laws and policies to ensure compatibility with international principles on statelessness, accession to UN statelessness conventions and the removal of gender discrimination in nationality laws and policies.

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Gender discrimination in the transfer of nationality is one of the leading causes of statelessness globally. When fathers cannot, or will not, pass on their nationality to their children, mothers in these countries have no options. There are millions of stateless people around the world who lack access to fundamental rights, such as education, health care and opportunities for employment. Things most people take for granted – like getting married, opening a bank account or even travelling – can be impossible for them. Children who are stateless often face discrimination not only from institutions and the state, but even their own families.

Five years ago, UNHCR launched the IBelong campaign to end statelessness around the world by 2024.

Source: UNHCR

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Netherlands, IOM launch Global Migration Initiative to protect people on the move

COMPASS will provide vulnerable migrants including victims of trafficking and unaccompanied or separated children access to a broad range of protection and assistance services.

 The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands launched the Cooperation on Migration and Partnerships for Sustainable Solutions initiative (COMPASS) at the beginning of 2021. COMPASS is a global initiative, in partnership with 12 countries, designed to protect people on the move, combat human trafficking and smuggling, and support dignified return while promoting sustainable reintegration.

The initiative is centred on a whole-of-society approach which, in addition to assisting individuals, will work across all levels – households, communities, and the wider communities – and encompasses the following partner countries: Afghanistan, Chad, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Mali, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, and Tunisia.

“We want to mobilize families, peers and communities to encourage informed and safe migration decisions, protect migrants, and help those returning home reintegrate successfully,” said Monica Goracci, Director of the Department of Migration Management at IOM.

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“One key component is also undermining the trafficking and smuggling business models through the promotion of safe alternatives and information sharing to reduce the risks of exploitation and abuse by these criminal networks.” Vulnerable migrants, including victims of trafficking and unaccompanied or separated children, will have access to a broad range of protection and assistance services such as mental health and psychosocial support, while migrants in transit who wish to return home will be supported with dignified return and reintegration.

Community level interventions will focus on improving community-led efforts to address trafficking in persons and smuggling of migrants, and support sustainable reintegration of returning migrants. COMPASS will work with national and local governments to enable a conducive environment for migrant protection, migration management and international cooperation on these issues.

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is pleased to launch the COMPASS programme in cooperation with IOM, an important and longstanding partner on migration cooperation,” said Marriët Schuurman, Director for Stability and Humanitarian Aid of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands.

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“The programme is a part of the Dutch comprehensive approach to migration with activities that contribute to protection and decreasing irregular migration. Research and data gathering are also important components, and we hope that the insights that will be gained under COMPASS will contribute to broader knowledge sharing on migration and better-informed migration policies.”, added Schuurman. The initiative has a strong learning component, designed to increase knowledge and the uptake of lessons learned, both within the programme and beyond its parameters. COMPASS will actively contribute to global knowledge that supports countries in managing migration flows and protecting vulnerable migrants such as victims of trafficking. The implementation of COMPASS is set to start soon.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, as the donor to the COMPASS initiative, pledges its active support to partner countries to improve migration cooperation mechanisms within its long-term vision. 

IOM, the leading inter-governmental organization in the field of migration, contributes its expertise as the technical implementation partner to the initiative. IOM works closely with governmental, intergovernmental and non-governmental partners in its dedication to promoting humane and orderly migration for the benefit of all. 

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A child, 40 others drown in shipwreck off Tunisia

Photo: Mediterranean Sea

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) are deeply saddened by reports of a shipwreck off the coast of Sidi Mansour, in southeast Tunisia, yesterday evening. The bodies of 41 people, including at least one child, have so far been retrieved.

According to reports from local UNHCR and IOM teams, three survivors were rescued by the Tunisian National Coast Guard. The search effort was still underway on Friday. Based on initial information, all those who perished were from Sub-Saharan Africa.

This tragic loss of life underscores once again the need to enhance and expand State-led search and rescue operations across the Central Mediterranean, where some 290 people have lost their lives so far this year. Solidarity across the region and support to national authorities in their efforts to prevent loss of life and prosecute smugglers and traffickers should be a priority.

Prior to yesterday’s incident, 39 refugees and migrants had perished off the coast near the Tunisian city of Sfax in early March. So far this year, sea departures from Tunisia to Europe have more than tripled compared to the same period in 2020.

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UNHCR and IOM continue to monitor developments closely. They continue to stand ready to work with the national authorities to assist and support the survivors, and the family members of those lost.

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Ethiopian migrants return home from Yemen with IOM support in wake of tragic boat sinking

Yemen: Stranded Ethiopian migrants prepare to board an IOM-facilitated flight from Aden, Yemen, to fly home to Addis Ababa. Photo: IOM/Majed Mohammed 2021

One hundred and sixty Ethiopian migrants have returned home safely from Yemen today with the assistance of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), just one day after a perilous journey across the Gulf of Aden claimed the lives of dozens of people, including at least 16 children.

More than 32,000 migrants, predominantly from Ethiopia, remain stranded across Yemen in dire, often deadly, circumstances.

“The conditions of migrants stranded in Yemen has become so tragic that many feel they have no option but to rely on smugglers to return home,” said Jeffrey Labovitz, IOM’s Director for Operations and Emergencies.

At least 42 people returning from Yemen are believed to have died on Monday when their vessel sank off the coast of Djibouti. Last month, at least 20 people had also drowned on the same route according to survivors. IOM believes that, since May 2020, over 11,000 migrants have returned to the Horn of Africa on dangerous boat journeys, aided by unscrupulous smugglers.

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“Our Voluntary Humanitarian Return (VHR) programme provides a lifeline for those stranded in a country now experiencing its seventh year of conflict and crisis. We call on all governments along the route to come together and support our efforts to allow migrants safe and dignified opportunities to travel home,” added Labovitz.

COVID-19 has had a major impact on global migration. The route from the Horn of Africa to Gulf countries has been particularly affected. Tens of thousands of migrants, hoping to work in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), now find themselves unable to complete their journeys, stranded across Djibouti, Somalia and Yemen.

While the pandemic has also caused the number of migrants arriving to Yemen to decrease from 138,000 in 2019 to just over 37,500 in 2020, the risks they face continue to rise. Many of these migrants are stranded in precarious situations, sleeping rough without shelter or access to services. Many others are in detention or being held by smugglers.

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“We cannot find jobs or food here; Yemen is a problem for us,” said Gamal, a 22-year-old migrant returning on the VHR flight. “I used to sleep in the street on cardboard. I could only eat because of the charity people would give me and sometimes we were given leftovers from restaurants. I never had much to eat.”

Since October 2020, in Aden alone, IOM has registered over 6,000 migrants who need support to safely return home. Today’s flight to Addis Ababa was the second transporting an initial group of 1,100 Ethiopians who have been approved for VHR to Ethiopia. Thousands of other undocumented migrants are waiting for their nationality to be verified and travel documents to be provided.

Prior to departure on the VHR flight, IOM carried out medical and protection screenings to ensure that returnees are fit to travel and are voluntarily consenting to return. Those with special needs are identified and receive specialized counselling and support.

In Ethiopia, IOM supports government-run COVID-19 quarantine facilities to accommodate the returnees on arrival and provides cash assistance, essential items and onward transportation to their homes. The Organization also supports family tracing for unaccompanied migrant children.

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Across the Horn of Africa and Yemen, IOM provides life-saving support to migrants through health care, food, water and other vital assistance.

Today’s flight was funded by the US State Department’s Bureau for Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM). Post-arrival assistance in Addis Ababa is supported by EU Humanitarian Aid and PRM.

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