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UN chief makes plea for action on Rohingya crisis

Filippo Grandi warns that increasing nationalism is risking progress on ending statelessness

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UN chief makes plea for action on Rohingya crisis

The Rohingya fled a brutal military crackdown in Myanmar's Rakhine State in 2017. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

The head of the United Nations refugee agency has said solutions are urgently needed for millions without citizenship or at risk around the world, including the Rohingya community.

“Without these, we risk a deepening of the exclusion that already affects the lives of millions of people. This is why a redoubling of efforts has become crucially needed,” United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi told a meeting in Geneva on Oct. 7.

Bangladesh is hosting over 1.1 million Rohingya refugees, most of whom fled Rakhine State in Myanmar following a brutal military crackdown in August 2017.

Grandi warned that recent advances in the battle to end statelessness — a leading cause of human rights deprivation for millions of people worldwide — were being imperiled by a rise in damaging forms of nationalism.

He said the growing number of countries taking action against statelessness meant the international community was nearing a point of critical mass in its efforts to stamp out statelessness for good.

“As recently as five years ago, public awareness of statelessness, and the harm it causes, was still negligible. That is changing, and today the prospect of ending statelessness entirely has never been closer,” Grandi asserted.

“And yet the progress is far from assured: damaging forms of nationalism and the manipulation of anti-refugee and migrant sentiment are powerful currents internationally that risk putting progress into reverse.”

UNHCR goodwill ambassador Cate Blanchett urged states present at the meeting to do more to help address stateless people’s despair.

“They are denied access to things every day that those with a nationality take for granted, such as education, health care and travel, or just opening a bank account,” Blanchett said.

Addressing the refugee crisis in Bangladesh, she pointed out that the problem had been decades in the making.

“The scale of the problem caused by the statelessness of the Rohingya people is overwhelming,” she said.

“I think we should learn as a species from the enormity of this problem, and what begins on a local level can go on decade after decade after decade and it becomes a problem beyond that country’s borders and it becomes an international crisis.

“So let’s not let other issues of statelessness rise to the level of the Rohingya.”

Blanchett visited Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh last year.

UNHCR launched a global #IBelong campaign in 2014 aimed at ending statelessness by 2024.

Some 15 countries have acceded to the two major treaties on statelessness, the 1954 U.N. Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, and the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness.

More than 220,000 stateless people acquired a nationality in the first five years of the campaign launched in places such as Kyrgyzstan, Kenya, Tajikistan and Thailand.

UNHCR said 25 countries continue to make it difficult or impossible for mothers to confer citizenship on their children, one of the leading causes of statelessness globally.

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