Statelessness Program

The Statelessness Program is an initiative dedicated to research, training and outreach on statelessness and related issues.

UNHCR-award

In 2013, UNHCR and Tilburg University’s Statelessness Program established a research award for excellence in the field of statelessness, with a view to draw more attention to this global phenomenon and area of study. Any university in the world can nominate students for the award, which has separate prize categories for undergraduate, graduate and doctoral research. An international expert jury, composed of leading academics in the field of citizenship, statelessness and human rights, determines the winning entries.

This year, 2014, a total of 13 nominations were received, spread across the three award categories. The nominations were submitted by academic staff from 11 different universities, across seven countries. The research represented a variety of disciplines, including political science, international law, liberal arts and sciences, human rights, education, anthropology and development. An International Expert Jury conducted a ‘blind review’ – neither the names of researchers nor their affiliated universities were known to the Jury – who judged the papers and dissertations on the basis of four main criteria (contribution to understanding of statelessness; timeliness and importance of selected topic; quality of research; and quality of writing). In 2014, the Jury members who assessed the undergraduate and graduate level nominations were: Prof. Khadija Elmadmad (Casablanca University, Morocco), Prof. Carmen Tiburcio (Rio de Janeiro State University, Brazil) Prof. René de Groot (Maastricht University, the Netherlands), Dr. Sriprapha Petcharamesree (Mahidol University, Thailand) and Prof. Kim Rubenstein (Australian National University, Australia). The Jury members who assessed the doctoral level research were: Prof. Kohki Abe (Kanagawa University, Japan), Dr. Benyam Mezmur (University of the Western Cape, South Africa), Prof. Peter Spiro (Temple University, United States).

2014 Award winners

The 2014 UNHCR Award for Best Undergraduate Research on Statelessness was presented to Ms. Maria Jose Recalde Vela for her work How can identity assert a claim to citizenship? In search of a safeguard against statelessness from a legal and socio-psychological perspective. The Jury considered this bachelor thesis, submitted in completion of the Liberal Arts Programme at Tilburg University (the Netherlands) to be an innovative and very well executed study, which makes a valuable and timely contribution to debate on the relationship between identity and nationality. The thesis departs from a concern about the fact that underlying the problem of statelessness for millions of people around the world is the refusal of the country with which they have real and existing connections to recognise them as a national. The Jury considers that in a field which is still dominated with studies that adopt a legal or human rights lens, this thesis offers a new and rather forceful tool to look at statelessness based on identity combined with legal and socio-psychological aspects. In looking at the place of identity in determining citizenship, the thesis draws out an important question, not only for statelessness but for citizenship issues more broadly.

The 2014 UNHCR Award for Best Graduate Research on Statelessness was presented to Ms Caia Vlieks for her thesis entitled A European human rights obligation for statelessness determination? written in completion of her LLM in International Human Rights Law at Tilburg University (the Netherlands). Concerned about the often poor treatment of stateless people in Europe today (the region hosts, as the thesis points out, over 600,000 people who do not hold any nationality), the thesis poses a very concrete and prudent research question: is it possible to distil an obligation for states to determine a person’s statelessness from the European Convention on Human Rights? If such an obligation can be asserted, this would help to improve the situation of stateless persons across the region who are currently unable to establish their status as stateless persons due to the lack of determination procedures or other methods of doing so. The Jury was unanimous in finding this a highly valuable and original contribution to statelessness research, describing it also as the kind of study that is needed to promote and defend the rights of stateless persons.

The 2014 UNHCR Award for Best Doctoral Research on Statelessness was presented to Dr. Jason Tucker for his thesis entitled Challenging the tyranny of citizenship: Statelessness in Lebanon, which earned him his PhD at the Department of Social and Political Sciences of the University of Bath (United Kingdom). The research examines the possibility that global citizenship could be a means to address statelessness, since global citizenship, unlike (national) citizenship, is – in theory – inclusive and based on our shared humanity. Tucker challenges the concept of global citizenship as being constructed on the assumption that everyone has a citizenship of a state, therefore to the exclusion of stateless persons. By adopting a stateless-centric approach and drawing data from empirical research in Lebanon, Tucker proposes a re-imagining of global citizenship. The thesis posits some interesting ideas that are highly relevant to discussions around the elimination of statelessness, such as Tucker’s suggestion that “it is in the interests of nation-states to tackle statelessness and work together at an international level to address statelessness globally, if only to perpetuate the dominance of the nation-state system”. The Jury found this novel and skilful analysis of the nation-state system and the tyranny of citizenship to be revealing and thought-provoking.

In addition to the above awards, the Jury presented two Certificates of Appreciation in 2014. The first was to Ms Helen Brunt for her thesis Stateless Stakeholders, seen but not heard? The case of the Sama Dilaut in Sabah, Malaysia, written in completion of her degree in Anthropology and Development at the University of Sussex (United Kingdom). This thesis considers the extent to which the Sama Dilaut community, sometimes known as ‘Sea Gypsies’, are excluded from participating in decision-making regarding natural resource management in the marine areas that they call home. The Jury was impressed with the strongly inter-disciplinary nature of the thesis and with the Brunt’s original fieldwork. The second was to the Georgetown Law Human Rights Institute Fact-Finding Project for the report entitled Left Behind: How Statelessness in the Dominican Republic Limits Children’s Access to Education. The report was written by a group of eight students, all enrolled in either Georgetown Law’s JD or LLM programme: Khaled Alrabe, Jamie Armstrong, B. Shaw Drake, Kimberly Fetsick, Elizabeth Gibson, Tabitha King, Young-Min Kwon and Franziska Veh. The research was conducted by these students in the context of a year-long practicum course and included a fact-finding mission to the Dominican Republic, where an impressive 95 individuals were interviewed, including 72 persons directly affected by statelessness. The resulting report, is a sophisticated paper which gives an excellent overview of the current problems in the Dominican Republic with extensive analysis and empirical data and excellent policy recommendations.

2013 Award winners

In 2013, the Award in the undergraduate category was presented to Ms. Amanda Cheong, whose thesis “Changing Conceptions of Citizenship Among Stateless Chinese-Bruneian Immigrants in Vancouver,” was nominated by the Department of Sociology at the University of British Columbia in Canada. In the graduate category, the Award was presented jointly to Ms. Eva Mrekajová, whose Master of Laws thesis on the “Naturalization of Stateless Persons” was nominated by the Department of International and European Law at Tilburg University; and Caroline McInerney, whose independent study paper entitled “Citizenship Laws of Madagascar: Future Challenges for a Developing Nation” was nominated by the University of Virginia School of Law in the United States. No award was given in the doctoral category in 2013.

Looking ahead to the 2015 edition of the UNHCR Research Award

In 2015, UNHCR will again put out a call for nominations of student work for the UNHCR Award for Statelessness Research. All nominations must be submitted by or on behalf of the member of the academic staff who has been involved in supervising the student's work and can testify as to its quality. Each university can nominate a maximum of two students per award category. Nominations may cover research in any discipline. The research may be theoretical in nature or incorporate empirical and/ or field research. All nominations must meet the benchmarks in terms of methodology and analysis that are applicable within the relevant discipline. Any research completed in the year prior to the nomination deadline is eligible: nominations will be accepted for any work completed between the 1st of May 2014 and the 1st of May 2015. The three nomination categories are:

  • A.     Undergraduate dissertation, or non-disseration work of a comparable level by an advanced undergraduate or graduate student
  • B.     Graduate (masters) dissertation, or work of a comparable level by a doctoral student (published or presented paper/article)
  • C.     Doctoral thesis

Only work written in the English language is eligible for nomination. There are no word limits in any of the categories. Further details of the nomination criteria and procedure, including a nomination form, will be made available in early 2015.

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