Ivory Coast will ratify an international treaty on statelessness next week, a step that will make it easier for hundreds of thousands of Ivorian children now living in limbo to get access to education, healthcare and jobs, the U.N. refugee agency said.
President Alassane Ouattara signed a presidential decree on Tuesday, the final step before official ratification of two statelessness conventions at the UN General Assembly on Tuesday next week, UNHCR representative to the Ivory Coast Ann Encontre told Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The West African nation was plunged into civil war in 2002, partly because of claims of Ivorian nationality by millions of immigrants who had been encouraged to work in the country's coffee and cotton plantations during the 20th century. These claims were never accepted by the Ivorian government
In the ensuing decade of instability and violence, an estimated 400,000 children born of Ivorian parents caught up in the conflict were not registered within the mandatory three-month period after birth, or their birth registration documents were lost during various crises, Encontre said.
"Without a birth certificate you have no access to basic education. When you are older you can't have a bank account or a driver's licence and if you are living with HIV, you can't be a part of the national protocol that provides free of charge healthcare," Encontre said.
The ratification of the conventions, which will be enacted through amendments to the nationality law and the land law, will also affect around 300,000 immigrants who have been living in the country for generations, especially the Burkina Be.
"After the conventions are passed, those that were born here will be able to claim Ivorian nationality through a relatively simple process. [Among other benefits] This will allow women married to a Burkina Be, or a man married to an Ivorian to claim nationality," Encontre said.
The UNHCR has been leading a campaign to highlight the plight of an estimated 12 million stateless people around the world. Without a nationality, stateless people usually lack identity papers and are deprived of access to education, housing, healthcare and formal employment.
Only 78 of the 193 U.N. member states are parties to the 1954 Convention and 54 have signed the 1961 Convention. The 1954 Convention defines statelessness and sets out minimum standards of treatment for stateless people. The 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness sets out a legal framework to prevent people being stateless.