Challenges & Opportunities: ENS members including SALAM gather in Strasbourg for Annual General Conference

SALAM DHR’s Head of International Relations, Asma Darwish has attended the European Network on Statelessness’ Annual General Conference title: “Working Together to Address Statelessness in Europe”, which was held at the European Youth Center in Strasbourg France from the 8th to 10th of October 2018.

SALAM DHR has joined ENS as a proud member in 2018. Although we are quietly new member to this network, however we have been effectively contributing in its new five-year strategic plan ‘Solving Statelessness in Europe’. This was very much the focus of this year’s gathering of ENS members, and propelled by their continuing energy and passion.

ENS’ working with and towards the Council of Europe is always a priority given its long tradition and leadership rolein protecting nationality rights, particularly in the period leading up to and following the adoption of the 1997 European Convention on Nationality. The need for continued, or indeed even recharged, action on statelessness by the Council of Europe remains as pressing as ever. It was for this reason that ENS decided to run this year’s Annual General Conference in Strasbourg, and linked to this, to hold a lunchtime reception event in the Palais of the Council of Europe during this week’s Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) session.

Hosted by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), short presentations by high level representatives from the Council of Europe were made in the reception. Following a series of short presentations, there was be a lunchtime reception with opportunities for bilateral discussion and networking with parliamentarians and other stakeholders. The event included an exhibition of Greg Constantine photographs which will be available for viewing throughout the week while PACE is in session.

There was tangible energy in the presentations by speakersduring the lunchtime reception event held at the Palais of the Council of Europe and among the large crowd gathered in front of the hemicycle – at the very heart of the Council of Europe – and seemingly a real interest and urgency in addressing the problem of statelessness.

In the AGS, members have discussed ENS Statelessness Index as an important tool to support this work, and help benchmark progress by states towards meeting their obligations under international law to protect stateless people and to prevent new cases of statelessness arising. We recognized in its core, that the key enduring problem in Europe is a failure by many governments to respect these obligations in practice. This protection gap has devastating consequences for those left living without a nationality, and is often due to a basic failure to properly identify statelessness.

Following a presentation of the Statelessness Index, members broke into working groups to reflect on its impact so far, heard from country partners involved in the project, and thought about how and where they can develop the Index as a tool to support their work, including in the run-up to UNHCR’s High Level Event on Statelessness in October 2019.

SALAM DHR’s representative also took part in the workshop on working in partnership with stateless communities with very interesting inputs on stateless groups and how to better engaged with them in order to address their issues and concerns.

In the afternoon, a participatory afternoon session incorporated consultation with members on the design and implementation of ENS’ new five-year strategic plan (2019-2023), followed by an Open Space discussion to enable members to spontaneously discuss any topic of their choice on the theme of membership engagement and the role of ENS members. It was an important opportunity for members to help set the future direction of ENS and reflect on how together they can achieve impact and bring about change.

The next day session included exploring the nexus between statelessness and forced migration. This session began with an overview of a new ENS/ISI joint research and advocacy project that aims to generate in-depth knowledge and policy, legislative and practical tools to reduce the risk of statelessness arising from current forced migration trends and secure the protection of stateless refugees and migrants in Europe. Speakers presented initial research findings, tools (including country of origin information and other advocacy tools) and plans to strengthen the participation of communities affected by statelessness in the project.

Participants then broke into working groups for interactive discussions on the issues raised by the project, with the aim of identifying advocacy and capacity building goals for the next phase, as well as strategies to mainstream statelessness within the wider forced migration discourse and the work of community-led and refugee-assisting organisations.

Asma Darwish of SALAM DHR was invited to showcase its work at country level amongst a selection of ENS members. She firstly thanked ENS for the invitation to theirannual conference in Strasbourg and stressed on SALAM DHR’s shared aims and visions with the European Network on Statelessness, in reaching their goals to raise the issue of statelessness globally, encourage legal and policy development, and promote capacity building activities. She introduced Bahrain as the tiny island slightly bigger than Singapore in its size and talked about the 2011 uprising which led to massive catastrophic crackdown on the pro-democracy movement which resulted in arresting and torturing activists, students, politicians, and journalists, and more crucially, revoking their nationality and forcing them to leave the country.

Darwish presented the case of SALAM DHR’s chairman of SALAM for Democracy and Human Rights, Jawad Fairooz, who himself was one of those victims. One year after resigning from his second term position as an MP to protest the government’s crackdown on pro-democracy movement, he was stripped of his nationality and rendered stateless. During his exile in the UK in the past 6 years, however, Jawad Fairooz hasn’t given up his hope for change, and established Salam for Democracy and Human Rights to raise the awareness of the international community on what is happening in the other side of the world including this particular issue.

Darwish also highlighted SALAM DHR’s active role in addressing statelessness issues and announced they are running a specially designed website for this issue, entitled “Ana Bahraini”, to enhance the public knowledge. On their membership with ENS, Darwish said: “Our membership of ENS helps us a lot to bring in our projects to European and international stakeholders like the NGOs, individual governments in Europe as well as the European Parliament, and UNHCR. We successfully held two major conferences in London and Brussel in collaboration with ENS, which were complete successes and got attention from academics, activists, and policy makers”.

These four days included a social dinner that brought all members on one table for a Strasbourgeoise dinner of cottage cheese, soup and salads.

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