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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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UNHCR and IOM shocked and dismayed by deaths near Belarus-Poland border

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and are deeply saddened by the deaths of four individuals near the border between Poland and Belarus. The organizations express their condolences to the families of the deceased and are calling for an immediate investigation into this tragedy. The nationalities of the all the victims have yet to be confirmed but two Iraqi nationals reportedly died of hypothermia.

In recent months, groups of asylum-seekers and migrants have been transiting through Belarus, to seek asylum in neighbouring EU Member States – Lithuania, Latvia and Poland.

The two agencies have been following with growing concern, reports of pushbacks of people at these borders. Groups of people have become stranded for weeks, unable to access any form of assistance, asylum or basic services. Many were left in dire situations, exposed to the elements, suffering from hypothermia. Some were rescued from swamps.

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Recognizing the significant challenges posed by irregular movements, the agencies have called for the situation to be managed in accordance with international legal obligations, and for States to work collaboratively to resolve the situation, prioritising human rights.

UNHCR and IOM call for immediate access to those affected, in order to provide lifesaving medical help, food, water and shelter, especially in light of the approaching winter.

While States have the sovereign right to manage their borders, this is not incompatible with the respect for human rights including the right to seek asylum. Pushbacks endanger lives and are illegal under international law.

UNHCR and IOM have been engaging with relevant authorities to explore various options for the people who continue to be stranded at borders; from access to asylum, family reunification procedures, and voluntary return for those found not to be in need of international protection.

IOM and UNHCR reiterate that asylum-seekers and migrants should never be used by States to achieve political ends. The fundamental responsibility to protect vulnerable people should be shared among States in a spirit of solidarity. Political disagreement on responsibilities must never result in the loss of life, forfeiting States international obligations and commitments.

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UNHCR calls on Libya to urgently develop plan for asylum seekers and refugees, welcomes authorization to restart evacuation

Libya. UNHCR provides assistance to asylum-seekers caught in crackdown

A refugee feeds her baby while waiting to receive assistance at an emergency distribution by UNHCR and partners in Tripoli, Libya.  © UNHCR/Mohamed Alalem

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, today urged the Libyan government to immediately address the dire situation of asylumseekers and refugees in a humane and rights-based manner. Raids and arbitrary arrests by the authorities this month targeted areas largely  populated by refugees and asylumseekers that resulted in several deaths, thousands detained, and many homeless and destitute.

“Since the start of the security raids and arrests by the Libyan authorities in October, we have witnessed a sharp deterioration in the situation facing vulnerable asylumseekers and refugees in Tripoli,” said Vincent Cochetel, UNHCR’s Special Envoy for the Western and Central Mediterranean Situation. “The Libyan authorities must come up with a proper plan that respects their rights and identifies durable solutions.”

Some 3,000 people are currently sheltering outside the Community Day Centre (CDC) in Tripoli, where UNHCR and its partners have been providing medical assistance and other services. Their situation is very precarious. Many were affected by the raids, demolition of their homes, and have escaped from detention in terrible conditions. Others have joined the group hoping to be evacuated.

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“Many have been left homeless and lost all their belongings as a result of the security operation and are now sleeping in the cold and in a very unsafe environment. This is utterly unacceptable,” said Cochetel.

UNHCR and partners had to suspend operations at the Community Day Centre for security and safety reasons, but remain engaged in an active dialogue with representatives of the protesters outside the CDC to explain the limited assistance it can offer, including cash and food assistance.

Together with other UN agencies, UNHCR stands ready to support an urgent plan of action that could help alleviate the terrible suffering of asylumseekers and refugees in Libya. 

UNHCR continues to call on the authorities to respect the human rights and dignity of asylumseekers and refugees, stop their arbitrary arrest and release them from detention. 

The UN Refugee Agency has welcomed authorization to restart humanitarian evacuation flights, but warns that it is not enough. 

“This is a positive development for some of the most vulnerable refugees, who have been waiting anxiously for many months to depart. Our teams are already working to ensure humanitarian flights can restart as soon as possible,” said Cochetel “But we also need to be realistic: resettlement or evacuation flights will only benefit a limited number of people.”    

More than 1,000 vulnerable refugees and asylumseekers are currently prioritised for humanitarian flights and awaiting their resumption. UNHCR continues to urge the international community to offer more legal pathways to safety outside Libya.

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Free movement of people a top priority, say West African nations

Aligned migration policies must be effectively applied by border officials to ease free movement while combatting trafficking in persons, says the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). Photo: Fredrick Ejiga/IOM

Abuja – Free movement of people and goods, and fighting human trafficking should be top policy priorities, members of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) agreed at talks convened with the support of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the UN Network for Migration and the African Union.

Three days of consultations in Abuja this week offered the first chance for ECOWAS members to collectively assess progress in implementing the Global Compact for Migration (GCM) objectives and to decide key recommendations to be put to next year’s International Migration Review Forum.

Integrated migration governance should be a key goal and Ambrose Dery, Minister of Interior for Ghana, the Chair of ECOWAS Authority of Heads of States and Governments, said it was essential African nations addressed trafficking in persons and its devastating consequences on migrants.

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“Vile stories on international media concerning migrant slavery, as well as mistreatment of young African domestic helps in some Gulf States, call for a reflection on appropriate actions to be taken with a view to finding a lasting solution to this persistent problem that leads to the loss of young Africans, without whom the continent cannot build a prosperous and peaceful future,” Dery said. “In Ghana, the contribution of migrants has played a great role in shaping our national development.”

Governments must address the root causes of trafficking and ensure the free movement of people in a safe, orderly and dignified manner. ECOWAS representatives emphasized the need to join forces and align approaches to prevent and counter smuggling of migrants and trafficking in persons to promote rights-based management of migration.

The meeting, which ended Thursday, also heard that policies must be effectively applied by border officials to ease free movement while combatting trafficking in persons.

Aissata Kane, IOM’s Senior Regional Adviser for Sub Saharan Africa, said the Global Compact for Migration was a landmark, multilateral document. “It aims to catalyze and boost combined support and assistance for addressing legal and humanitarian challenges of migration and foster its positive social, cultural and economic dividends within and outside the ECOWAS region.”

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IOM has been working with all stakeholders at intergovernmental and national levels, as well as within the UN Network for Migration, to promote safe, orderly and dignified free movement of people and economic exchange among ECOWAS Member States.

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