Today UNHCR launched its campaign to end statelessness, #IBELONG. While I think this is a great initiative, if I’ve learned anything during my time at UNHCR it is that most things can considered too political (or politically sensitive) to talk about. For this reason, this campaign came as a surprise but I am glad that UNHCR is taking a leading role in ending statelessness. It is a part of its mandate, after all.

Why This Matters

What does being stateless mean, you ask? Being born stateless means being denied a nationality and all of the rights and services that a citizen of any nation is normally entitled to (education, healthcare, employment, etc.). Stateless people are born into the world and from the moment they take their first breath they are quite literally marginalized and disenfranchised.

Statelessness is also a gendered issue: 27 countries currently deny women the right to pass their nationality on to their children on an equal basis with men.

Just three years ago, only 100 states were party to the two statelessness treaties; today that number stands at 144. This campaign comes at a time when it is important to not only keep the momentum going but also show that international attitudes surrounding statelessness are changing.

The Campaign

The campaign graphics were designed by United Colors of Benetton, which is known for its polemic campaigns. If you don’t know what I mean, then a friendly Google Image search should get you up to speed.

On the campaign website, you’ll find a promotional video used to launch the campaign, an Open Letter (which you should sign!), and some stateless peoples’ stories. The goal of the campaign is to amass “10 million signatures to change 10 million lives” in a decade – 10 million referring to the normal of stateless people around the world today. Apparently, every 10 minutes a stateless person is born. The Open Letter will be used as a petition later on in UNHCR’s advocacy efforts.

Apart from the information on the campaign website, you can also find the Special Report on Statelessness and the 10-point Global Action Plan to End Statelessness online.

What kinds of feelings does this campaign bring to the surface – or even more important to ask – worries? I’ve heard some colleagues say that they think the campaign is dumb, politically-insensitive, etc. Yet, a lot of the younger colleagues I’ve spoken to say that this is the first campaign by UNHCR that has really caught their attention, made them stop, look and think.

Will governments worldwide do the same?

I sure hope so.

Campaign banner from inside Headquarters. There’s a series of them with people from different backgrounds showing how statelessness affects so many.