Great Lakes : the ICGLR and the UNHCR warn of the risk of statelessness of more than 100,000 refugees

Great Lakes : the ICGLR and the UNHCR warn of the risk of statelessness of more than 100,000 refugees

A new study by the Secretariat of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) highlights the risks of statelessness for refugees who have spent more than 20 years outside their country of origin, especially for their descendants born in exile. According to UNHCR’s 2022 trends report, more than 103,000 stateless people reside in Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan and Uganda. INFO SOS Médias Burundi

The study released at the beginning of August is entitled : “Refugees from generation to generation : preventing statelessness through durable solutions in the Great Lakes region”. It focused on Rwandan refugees in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Congolese refugees in Rwanda and Burundi, South Sudanese and Congolese refugees in Uganda as well as Burundian refugees in the east African region.

The study found that most long-term refugees have no identity documents from their country of origin and would face enormous challenges in restoring their nationality if they were ever to return to that country.


This bad experience is confirmed by Jean Paul, 60 years old, a Burundian refugee living in Tanzania. This Burundian is at his third refuge.

“I fled in 1972 when I was 9 years old, then in 1993 and in 2015. I have children and grandchildren. They have no document issued by the Burundian authorities, let alone the nationality of the host country. They do not find themselves anywhere between the two countries”, testifies the one who is installed today in the camp of Nyarugusu in northwest Tanzania.

The impossible naturalization…

According to the report, these long-term refugees in the Great Lakes region of Africa identify more with the country of asylum, and many would like to acquire the nationality of their host country.

The solution seems to be the most advantageous for Jean Paul and his family.

“Normally, I should have nationality because me and my family have lived a large part of our lives in exile and it is in exile that I have had many children”, he believes.

However, in practice, access to naturalization is impossible, report UN and ICGLR experts, adding that many refugees find it difficult to renew even their refugee identity documents.

“Gaps in nationality laws mean that those born in the country of asylum are particularly at risk of statelessness, especially if their birth has not been registered and a birth certificate issued”, say the ICGLR and UNHCR experts.

Necessary documents

According to the study, only 8% of long-staying adult refugees surveyed have a birth certificate.

“Although birth registration rates increased significantly for refugee children born in countries of asylum, notably in Rwanda, only 28% of adult refugees born in Uganda and 6% of adults born in the DRC had birth certificates when they were consulted”, reports the document.

Adult late check-in…

The study made recommendations to the authorities of the countries concerned, as well as to the ICGLR and the UNHCR, in order to prevent the risk of statelessness in the context of these protracted refugee situations.

The recommendations include both legal reforms and practical initiatives to enable refugees “to access legal pathways to nationality that already exist on paper.”

Another example

Jakson, another Burundian in his forties, who has been in his second refuge in Tanzania since 1993, attests to the relevance of this recommendation.

“I have eight children, they were almost all born in exile since 1993. Some of them do not have a birth certificate, even less an identity card from the country of origin. So, I ask that the host countries guarantee us access to these identity documents which will also be useful to us when we need to apply for nationality”, he insists.

The recommendations also include the need for ICGLR member states to make efforts to “ensure that all refugees have valid identity documents issued by the country of asylum”, and to “achieve universal registration births, including late registration of the adult refugee population born in the country of asylum”.

“I don’t know if these recommendations will be implemented because these countries do not want to recognize us and some continue to force us to return to the country so we do not even know our origins in a country which is supposed to be our homeland, Burundi. The solution is simple, we facilitate naturalization so that our children have an origin”, adds Jackson.

Him like Jean Paul and other Burundians as well as Congolese who lived in the Mtabila camp which was closed in 2012 have become almost Tanzanians, practically.

“We speak their language, we have their culture, some of us have Tanzanian driving licenses, we have participated in elections at least three times in Tanzania. So it only remains to recognize us so that we are no longer almost stateless”, they say.

A Guide that does not guide…
The ICGLR and the UNHCR consider that the conclusions of the study constitute a guide for the countries concerned in the fight against statelessness.

“These are crucial findings to address the risks of statelessness among protracted refugees and their descendants in the region, and will guide the development of the ICGLR’s global strategy for durable solutions in the Great Lakes region”, said ICGLR and UNHCR officials for East Africa, the Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes region of Africa.

And they reassured that “preventing and combating statelessness is essential for refugees who have spent more than two decades in exile, as this opens the way to any durable solution. Thanks to the results of this study, governments will facilitate the access of refugees to civil status documents, identity documents and certificates of nationality, which is extremely important”.

Difficult mission

In November 2014, the UNHCR launched its global campaign to end statelessness by 2024.

“However, with only a year and a half remaining until the end of the campaign, only a small number of pledges and other measures to address statelessness have been implemented by ICGLR member states and other committed entities”, regret the experts of the ICGLR and UNHCR.

According to UNHCR’s 2022 Global Trends Report, more than 103,000 stateless people reside in Burundi, Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan and Uganda.

However, the true number is presumed to be much higher, as existing statistics on statelessness only account for stateless populations in less than half of ICGLR countries and do not include those who are long-term refugees or their descendants born in exile without recognized nationality.

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