The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR) on Tuesday warned that many of the world’s stateless people might miss out of Coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccination due to their lack of proof of citizenship identity.
In its latest report on The Impact of COVID-19 on Stateless Populations, the agency noted that the majority of national immunisation plans did not provide clarity on their coverage of stateless people.
“There are millions known to be stateless around the world, without the nationality of any state.
“This has hugely damaging impacts on their fundamental human rights, and now they may also be excluded from accessing life-saving vaccinations,” said UNHCR’s International Protection chief, Gillian Triggs.
UNHCR warned that many without nationality or identity documents would be excluded unless states make particular efforts to reach them and address the specific challenges they are likely to face.
The new report provides recommendations and examples of good state practice in this regard, including acceptance of alternate forms of proof of a person’s identity.
“In the interest of protecting people’s lives and securing public health, national vaccination plans must be implemented in as inclusive a manner as possible.
“Given that many stateless people already face widespread exclusion and marginalization, barriers to access must be addressed and special consideration given to their situation,” said Triggs.
Since the onset of the pandemic, many stateless people continue to face difficulties in accessing health care and social services.
Many may fear coming forward for testing or treatment owing to their lack of legal status, which could place them at risk of detention and deportation.
The cost of medical attention, including vaccinations, can also be high for stateless people, as they are usually not covered by national, public healthcare schemes.
UNHCR, with a mandate to prevent and reduce statelessness and protect stateless people is aware of a global population of at least 4.2 million stateless people in some 94 countries.
The UN Refugee Agency stated that owing to the invisible nature of this issue, the actual figure was believed to be substantially higher.
More than a year into the pandemic, UNHCR is also warning that disruptions to birth registration services were creating new risks of statelessness.
“With a number of countries having suspended civil registration services as a result of the pandemic, birth registration which is key in establishing eligibility for nationality has been affected.
“Countries where birth registration services were partially or fully suspended are now reporting lower birth registration rates as well as substantial backlogs.
“Targeted campaigns to register births for hard-to-reach populations at risk of statelessness have also been suspended in many contexts.
“The risks of statelessness are likely to be highest for minority groups which make up the majority of known stateless populations,’’ it stated. (NAN)