Situation assessment of statelessness, health, and COVID-19 in Europe

21 April 2021: European Network on Statelessness: Situation assessment of statelessness, health, and COVID-19 in Europe

Prof van Hout and Charlotte Bigland from LJMU, the authors of this report, will be leading SNN International Public Health Working Group.  Prof Van Hout says:

“There is a divide between the State obligation to assure the rights of all to healthcare, including the non-discrimination provisions where no one can be excluded in the COVID-19 health response; and the real world situation for the stateless who experience significant social and structural barriers to access of healthcare, not least exacerbated by institutional fear around data sharing with immigration. This is likely to impact most now given the imperatives to scale up and include all in COVID-19 vaccination roll out. NGOs will be crucial in supporting the practicalities around logistics in vaccinations and support of those who are marginalized and hidden.”

From European Network on Statelessness:

Our new report exposes specific challenges stateless people face as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic and responses needed to address them. 

The European Network on Statelessness has been working with researchers from the Public Health Institute at Liverpool John Moores University (UK) and our members across Europe to better understand how statelessness intersects with health rights at this crucial time for global public health.

Our new research report Situation assessment of statelessness, health, and COVID-19 in Europe and accompanying policy briefing explore the issues faced by stateless people in accessing healthcare and the compounded impact of the pandemic. The report makes a series of recommendations, above all, that States must take action to guarantee the right to health of all on their territory, including stateless people, during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Download the report

Download the briefing

Based on our findings and building on the recommendations of others, we make the following detailed recommendations, which are focused on guaranteeing the right to health for stateless persons, improving the public health response to COVID-19 for stateless communities, and leveraging the COVID-19 pandemic to secure policy reform towards ending statelessness and the discrimination and rights violations experienced by stateless people.

  1. The Right to Health
    1.1: States must guarantee the right to health of all on their territory, including stateless persons during and after COVID-19.
    1.2: States should consider regularising all stateless people during public health emergencies in order to guarantee the right to health. In the longer-term and where they have not yet done so, States should introduce mechanisms to identify and resolve cases of statelessness on their territory as well as statelessness determination procedures to guarantee stateless migrants the protection they are due under the 1954 Convention.
    1.3: States must uphold the protection of life and health for all stateless persons via appropriate disease mitigation and support measures in camps, shelters, settlements, social housing and immigration detention settings; and including those who are homeless. Stateless people and their communities no matter what setting (spanning community, accommodation centres, and immigration detention settings) must be provided with personal protective equipment (masks) and other basic necessities (handwash, soap, hot and clean water, towels).
    1.4: States must not detain stateless people under the pretext of disease prevention or containment. States are obliged to take steps to prevent the arbitrary detention of stateless people and ensure full access to rights and services whilst providing sufficient housing, health, and social care (including childcare) support on release from immigration detention.

2. Access to COVID-19 testing, treatment, and vaccines

The absence of formal documentation cannot be a barrier to COVID-19 testing, treatment, or vaccination. In close cooperation with trusted community-based NGOs, and fully supported through direct involvement by individuals and groups from these communities themselves, COVID vaccination deployment must target and include those who are stateless or at risk of statelessness. In the course of assuring informed consent and providing care, clear assurances must be made that any information informally or formally obtained about a person’s residence or legal status will not be shared with other government departments or used against them in any way, including in immigration proceedings.

3. Immigration, nationality, international protection, and civil registration procedures
3.1: States must uphold the norms of due process in administrative and legal procedures during a pandemic and desist from any that increase risk to health and life due to transmission of COVID-19.
3.2: States should consider automatically extending residence permits during a pandemic to avoid discrimination in access to healthcare and other essential services.
3.3: States are recommended to designate civil registration activities, including birth registration, as essential services, allowing their continuation during a public health emergency and minimising the risk of statelessness owing to a lack of legal proof of identity or nationality. Where delay to legal procedures, including immigration, nationality and international protection procedures is unavoidable, no-one should be disadvantaged or penalised as a result.
3.4: States must take urgent action to guarantee children born in Europe during COVID-19 and beyond, their right to acquire a nationality by improving knowledge and awareness of officials, ensuring statelessness is identified and addressed, and accurately determining
every child’s nationality.

4. Addressing discrimination, racism and antigypsyism
4.1: Notwithstanding and recognising the significant challenges faced by healthcare services during a pandemic, States must take action to ensure all persons, including stateless persons, have equal access to preventive, curative and palliative health services, regardless of their residence or documentation status, or any aspect of their identity. COVID-19 testing, tracing, treatment, and vaccination should be free and accessible for all regardless of nationality or residence status. Emergency and follow-up care should be provided in a non-discriminatory manner including the provision of essential medicines prevention, treatment, and support.
4.2: States must take steps to address the increase in hate speech, xenophobia, racism and antigypsyism that has emerged during the pandemic and ensure that public health and law enforcement response measures do not fuel xenophobia and racism.
4.3: States are advised to put in place measures to eradicate institutional racism, including antigypsyism, by involving people affected by statelessness in the development of learning opportunities for healthcare providers on accessing the right to health and healthcare, developing E-learning modules in medical schools, and continuing professional development.
4.4: Stateless people and representatives of communities affected by statelessness, including Romani people and Roma advocates, should be represented and able to participate in planning and decision-making process that affect their lives

5. Health information and digital inclusion
5.1: States should ensure that stateless people are included in public health information campaigns taking account of location, language, and communication preferences.
5.2: States and non-State actors are recommended to operationalise innovative ways to engage and reach stateless people with information, supporting access to COVID-19 testing, tracing, treatment, and vaccinations. This could include mobile health units, health mentoring, cultural mediation using translators and interpreters, and a range of media outputs in different languages and formats.
5.3: States are recommended to take steps to reduce digital exclusion, particularly as it impacts on access to health information, appointments, or registration with healthcare services. Support should be provided to access the internet, information, and digital equipment where needed.

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