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Cyprus

Raw deal for stateless persons in Cyprus

Ombusdwoman Eliza Savvidou said statelessness was not just a legal problem, but one with a grave impact on human rights

Cyprus has its fair share of the world’s ten million stateless persons but no one knows how many that might be, a conference on the issue in Nicosia heard on Wednesday.

Cyprus has not acceded to any of the international treaties that provide for the rights of the stateless, while the current refugee crisis is making the problem more acute, participants heard, while some suggested the problem could be alleviated if children born in Cyprus to foreign parents could be given citizenship.

The seminar was organised by the UNHCR and the Office of the Commissioner for Administration and Human Rights (Ombudswoman), in Nicosia.

The UNHCR has embarked on a campaign with the slogan “I belong”, calling on world leaders to take political action to solve the problem within a decade.

Statelessness comprises a serious breach of human rights, while those affected have to face a series of problems, like limited access to education, health services or the labour market.

Speakers noted that although there are known cases of stateless persons in Cyprus, through complaints reaching the Ombudswoman or other authorities, the state sector is not aware of their total number. Known cases include people of Palestinian origin, Kurds formally residing in Arab countries, as well as some cases of Armenians and nationals of former Soviet Republics.

The problem may occur due to the dissolution of a state, changes in the law of a country or due to discriminatory provisions in the legal system.

“Not being a citizen of any state is an anomaly,” said Damtew Dessalegne, the UNHCR Representative in Cyprus.

He referred to the global campaign, the UNHCR launched last year to end statelessness within 10 years. “It is an ambitious goal indeed, but one that can be achieved, because it is premised on the fact that citizenship is a basic human right”, while its realisation is “mostly a matter of political will,” he said.

Dessalegne said that if there was political will, bad laws could be amended to ensure that no child is born stateless. “Cyprus, with all the challenges it is facing, can afford to ensure that all children, born or having long residency in this country, can have citizenship of the Republic,” he added.

Ombusdwoman Eliza Savvidou said statelessness was not just a legal problem, but one with a grave impact on human rights. In Cyprus, she added, “it appears that the domestic legal order treats stateless persons in a fragmented way, being unable to afford adequate and effective protection”.

Savvidou also said Cyprus should sign the international treaties that provide for the legal framework for securing the rights of the stateless.

Leda Koursoumba, the Commissioner for Children`s Rights, said from her part that conveying citizenship to children upon birth would solve the problem.

She acknowledged the caution displayed by authorities in Cyprus on matters of citizenship, due to reasons linked to the country`s political problem, she said however that total absence of any provision to implement the obligations deriving from the Convention on the Rights of the Child “cannot be accepted”.

Both Savvidou and Koursoumba said authorities in Cyprus have no concrete numbers on the stateless people residing on the island.

CNA

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