Social & Economic rights

Thursday, 22 November 2012

ENS Kick-off Seminar Held in Budapest

When the European Network on Statelessness (ENS) was formally launched in June 2012, an open invitation was extended to all individuals and organisations working on statelessness in Europe to join the Network as associate members. In just a few short months, dozens of applications were submitted and approved, demonstrating the real interest among those working on the issue to find one another in order to exchange information, ideas and experiences. To jump-start this process of capacity building through the sharing of expertise, ENS decided that its first major regional activity should be a seminar comprising both training elements and sessions geared towards the joint mapping of and planning for statelessness in Europe.

The ENS kick-off seminar was held from 19 to 21 November 2012 in Budapest, Hungary. It was made possible by the generous support of the Global Learning Centre of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the willingness of the European Youth Centre of the Council of Europe in Budapest to host the event. Several UNHCR offices also provided invaluable funding support to cover the travel costs of individual participants from their regions.

Below is a brief summary of the kick-off seminar as well as a short summary of evaluations. Annexed to this report is more detailed data on participant evaluations as well as individual report backs from the four sub regional working groups during the mapping and planning sessions.

A shorter summary of the event as well as some of the course presentations are available on the ENS website capacity building page at

          1) Overall aims and objectives

The aim of the kick-off seminar was to bring together ENS Associate Members from across the region, which spans the territory of the Council of Europe, in order to provide training, share information and engage in strategic planning. As such, participants were selected to reflect as great a geographical diversity as possible, with invitations to the seminar in principle extended to one associate member per country. Exceptionally, two associate members from the same country were invited and there were also a number of countries from which no participant attended. 30 members from 28 European countries participated in the seminar. Limited funding and capacity meant that it was not possible to invite all ENS associate members.

          2) Training component

The first half of the seminar was dedicated to the presentation by invited experts and ENS Steering Committee members of some of the core conceptual issues in the field of statelessness. These included sessions on definitional questions relating to nationality and statelessness, the international legal framework for the prevention of statelessness (1961 UN Convention and 1997 European Convention on Nationality) and the purpose and functioning of Statelessness Determination Procedures.
In smaller, break-out workshops, a variety of concrete themes relating to statelessness in Europe were discussed, such as methods for mapping statelessness, discrimination and statelessness (with a focus on the Roma in the Western Balkans) and litigating statelessness before international and regional human rights bodies. Special attention was also paid to the role of different stakeholders in addressing statelessness, for instance through presentations by UNHCR and the Office of the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights on their respective mandates and activities.

Lecturers for the kick-off seminar were drawn primarily from the ENS Steering Committee who drew on their wide diversity of expertise on statelessness and their previous experience in leading capacity building sessions on the issue. The ENS Steering Committee members involved were Gábor Gyulai (Hungarian Helsinki Committee), Sebastian Kohn (Open Society Justice Initiative), Ivanka Kostic (Praxis Serbia), Chris Nash (Asylum Aid) and Laura van Waas (Tilburg Statelessness Programme). In addition, a number of external experts were invited to contribute on particular issues. In particular, Mark Manly, Head of UNHCR’s Statelessness Unit walked participants through the definition of statelessness and the guidance developed by UNHCR on the application of this definition in practice. Professor René de Groot, a specialist in nationality law from Maastricht University, discussed the development and content of international and regional standards for the avoidance of statelessness. Inge Sturkenboom and Francoise Kempf presented on the role and current activities of UNHCR and the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights respectively.

All of the discussions were moreover greatly enriched by the active engagement of the participants, who contributed numerous relevant and interesting cases and examples throughout the seminar.

          3) The mapping and planning component

During the second half of the seminar, the emphasis shifted from consolidating participants’ knowledge to engaging in joint analysis of the current challenges relating to statelessness in Europe and developing strategies to address these challenges. These highly interactive mapping and planning exercises were undertaken in sub-regional groups, to maximise the opportunity for all participants to actively contribute both their concerns and their ideas to the debate – as well as to learn from and get to know one another. Following a report by each sub-regional group to the plenary, the seminar ended with an open discussion on the way forward for ENS as a network, providing the Steering Committee with direct input for the strategic discussion that was held subsequently to the closing of the seminar.

Each sub-regional group came together for a mapping session followed by a planning session. The objective of the mapping sessions was to identify, as a group, i) the main statelessness problems faced in the countries group members work in and/or in Europe more broadly; and ii) existing opportunities to tackle these problems. Each group was asked to list problems under three headings i) laws, ii) populations and iii) other problems, and to list opportunities as stakeholders or initiatives. The objective of the planning sessions was to brainstorm about activities that could or should be undertaken by ENS members and/or by the Network, alone or in partnership, to improve the way that statelessness is addressed in particular countries or across the region. Participants were asked to divide these between short and long term activities and then to prioritise three key activities from each.

Through the questions raised, ideas presented and examples discussed, these participants demonstrated an overall high level of knowledge of the issues and a clear commitment to the cause of more effectively addressing statelessness in Europe. A more detailed summary of each sub-regional working group is annexed to this report but below are some broad conclusions arising from the discussions as a whole.

The mapping sessions of the kick-off seminar led to the identification of a range of challenges that are common to a number of countries in the region or, indeed, face Europe as a whole when it comes to tackling statelessness. For instance, participants remarked about the general lack of knowledge of many government counterparts on the specific vulnerability of the stateless or the measures that can be adopted to avoid statelessness or guarantee the fundamental rights stateless people. Another shared concern is the overall low level of awareness among the general population of Europe of the phenomenon of statelessness, which means that the issue is a largely forgotten or invisible one. At the same time, participants volunteered information on a wide variety of activities that have contributed to identifying, preventing or reducing statelessness, or protecting stateless people. Examples included research projects, legal assistance programmes, strategic litigation of cases and training initiatives targeting civil servants or students.

Many interesting proposals were made for action that could be undertaken by ENS as a Network, or individually/jointly by particular associate members. These concrete ideas included: raising the profile of the issue by targeting specific individuals or organisations for dedicated training (such as embassy staff or national ombudsmen); identifying stateless people who can act as spokesmen for the issue or building a collection of testimonials on experiences of statelessness so as to shed light on the human impact of the problem; and exploring certain problems or (the effects of) particular policies relating to statelessness across a number of countries or the region as a whole through the development and use of dedicated research templates to map issues.

These and other suggestions raised by participants have been noted by the Steering Committee and will provide a valuable contribution to ongoing discussions on the short and longer-term strategies for engagement by the Network on statelessness in Europe. The ENS Coordinator and Steering Committee have subsequently developed a provisional Network activity plan for 2013/14 which is available on request.

          4) Summary of participant evaluations

The evaluation forms completed by participants were overwhelmingly positive while also highlighting some possible areas for improvement.

One participant remarked “Please allow me to congratulate YOU ALL!!! You have done a great job! THANK YOU!”. Another participant added:

“There was a very good balance between lectures and working groups, the whole agenda was perfectly structured. The level of information was perfect for me: I learned a lot, but it was not too difficult. I loved the informal climate and the attitude of participants and organisers (really interested in protecting human rights, rather than “showing how experts they are”, etc.)”

The vast majority of participants found the level of training to be about right although some found it too technical while others felt it too advanced. The vast majority of participants also agreed “very much” with the statements that they learned a lot, that the event was well-organised and that it provided a good networking opportunity. Participants also overwhelmingly agreed that the topics of the agenda were well-selected, the seminar was interactive and that the event helped them better understand the challenges related to statelessness. The seminar venue and the social dinners also received very positive evaluation. On a scale of 1 to 4 (4 representing full agreement, 1 disagreement), all average general evaluation scores were higher than 3.6.

A more detailed table of evaluation scores is annexed to this report, and all feedback will be taken on board by the ENS Steering Committee when planning future events.

           5) Lessons learned and building on Budapest through planning for future events
One overriding impression gained from the Budapest Kick-Off event was the huge importance of bringing together ENS members as part of efforts to strengthen the identity of the Network as a whole, and to foster a sense of shared solidarity among ENS members of working together on an hitherto often neglected issue. The full impact of the Budapest event needs to be evaluated over time, but it seems clear that without such periodic coming together it is far more challenging for the Network to deliver coordinated and effective activity. Already initial indications would suggest that the event was successful in galvanising certain organisations in attendance to become more active members. For example a number of members subsequently translated and disseminated at the national level the public statement ENS released on International Human Rights Day. Several members also responded to a call to provide information to an enquiry by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights into national law and practice concerning the deprivation of nationality. At the same time the seminar provided much needed training to other members with perhaps historically less developed engagement and expertise on the statelessness issue.

As a result of subsequent strategic discussions, the ENS Steering Committee has already identified developing a ‘train the trainer’ event/programme as a priority in terms of building the capacity of selected/interested ENS members to expand their training efforts at the national and sub-regional level in future. However, at the same time there is clearly a strategic need and benefit in coming together as a broader coalition of members for a combination of training and/or planning discussions. The ENS Coordinator and Steering Committee will therefore continue its fundraising efforts in this regard.

See the selected resources from the ENS Kick-Off Seminar:





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Praxis means action
Praxis means action
Praxis means action
Praxis means action