(of a person) not recognized as a citizen of any country.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that statelessness affects at least 10 million people worldwide. The lives of stateless people can often involve struggles with respect to aspects of everyday life that citizens take for granted, including access to medical care, education, employment or the right to travel. In some cases, stateless persons face protracted periods in detention or more extreme forms of persecution.
There are many causes of statelessness, including some of the same forces that create refugee flows and push people out of their home country. However, many stateless persons have been living for generations in the same country but have never been recognised as citizens. Others were citizens but lost that citizenship due to discriminatory laws or persecution. Sometimes, statelessness is caused simply by poorly drafted nationality laws or as a consequence of state succession.
Historically, the phenomenon of statelessness was overlooked by the international community. However, the identification, recognition and legal protection of stateless persons has undergone a renaissance in the past decade, chiefly led by the work of the UNHCR. The UNHCR’s Global Action Plan to End Statelessness, 2014-2024, recognises the vital role for research in achieving its ambitious goals, given there are significant existing gaps in qualitative and quantitative information on stateless populations, and in analysis and identification of the causes of statelessness.
In light of the significance of the issue of statelessness and the clear gaps in existing research and research initiatives globally, the University of Melbourne Statelessness Hallmark Research Initiative was established in 2018.
The Statelessness Hallmark Research Initiative (SHRI) aims to:
- create opportunities for University of Melbourne researchers to engage in academic collaboration and multidisciplinary research on statelessness and citizenship;
- build capacity and understanding of statelessness amongst academic and research communities in the region;
- increase the availability of high-quality data, information, research and training on statelessness to fill knowledge gaps and inform public policy;
- build connections and opportunities for collaboration between University of Melbourne researchers and academic actors working in Asia and the Pacific.
The Statelessness Hallmark Initiative is supported by the Peter McMullin Centre on Statelessness.
Professor Michelle Foster - Initiative Chair
Professor Michelle Foster is the Chair of the Statelessness Research Initiative and the inaugural Director of the Peter McMullin Centre on Statelessness at Melbourne Law School. Michelle has published widely in the field of international refugee law, including International Refugee Law and Socio-Economic Rights: Refuge from Deprivation (CUP, 2007) and, with James Hathaway, The Law of Refugee Status, Second Edition, (CUP, 2014). Michelle’s most recent publications explore various legal issues concerning the recognition and protection of stateless persons, including a monograph with Professor Helene Lambert, entitled The Protection of Stateless Persons in International Refugee Law (forthcoming OUP, 2018). Michelle teaches Refugee Law and International Refugee Law at Melbourne Law School, and in 2017 taught in the International Summer School in Forced Migration at Oxford’s Refugee Studies Centre.
Christoph Sperfeldt - Academic Convenor
From June 1st 2018 Christoph Sperfeldt will commence as the Academic Convenor of the Statelessness Research Initiative, and a Senior Research Fellow at the Peter McMullin Centre on Statelessness. He is a current doctoral candidate at the School of Regulation and Global Governance (RegNet), Australian National University. Christoph came to the issue of statelessness from a bottom-up perspective, examining the development and peace implications resulting from the marginalisation of vulnerable populations. Christoph brings to the role more than ten years of experience in researching and working on human rights, statelessness and transitional justice, predominantly in the Asia-Pacific region. Prior to joining the Centre, he was Deputy Director at the Asian International Justice Initiative, a joint program of the East-West Center and the WSD Handa Center for Human Rights and International Justice, Stanford University, where he supported human rights and rule of law capacity development in Southeast Asia; and Senior Advisor with the Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) in Cambodia. Christoph has published widely in the field of human rights and transitional justice.
From 2014 to 2017 Erika Feller held the appointment of Vice-Chancellor's Fellow at the University of Melbourne, located in the Melbourne School of Government. She is currently a Professorial Fellow in the School of Government, serving at the same time in various advisory capacities outside the University, including as a member of the Research Advisory Committee of the Humanitarian Advisory Group, a social enterprise working to elevate the profile of humanitarian action in Asia and the Pacific.
Erika’s experience with the statelessness portfolio spans many years at very high levels of seniority. UNHCR is the agency in the UN system with the mandate to protect and assist stateless persons. This is predominantly a protection function. Erika oversaw the protection policy and delivery in UNHCR for over 13 years, first in her capacity as Director of the Division of International Protection and then during her 7 years as UNHCR’s Assistant High Commissioner for Protection. She was regularly involved in activities on behalf of stateless people, ranging from training, capacity building and advocacy through to direct interventions to improve the circumstances of affected individuals and groups.
Professor John Tobin is the Francine McNiff Chair in International Human Rights Law at Melbourne Law School. He is an internationally recognised expert in human rights with special expertise in children’s rights. In 2010, he was awarded the Barbara Falk Award for Teaching Excellence by the University of Melbourne and in 2011 he was awarded a national citation for outstanding contribution to student learning in the area of human rights.
Professor Tobin’s expertise with respect to children’s rights has particular salience for the Statelessness Hallmark Research Initiative (SHRI) in light of the fact that UNHCR estimates that there is a stateless child being born at least every 10 minutes, and observes that the effects of being born stateless are profound especially in terms of access to the most basic of human rights such as medical care. Therefore, research and advocacy with regard to the link between children’s rights and statelessness is essential to finding solutions to statelessness.
Over the last decade Professor Susan Kneebone's research, teaching and publications have focused on forced migration, including refugees, statelessness and citizenship, in South East Asia (SEA). In 2006, she was awarded an ARC Linkage Grant: LP0667748; ‘Australia’s Response to Trafficking in Women: Towards a Model for the Regulation of Forced Migration in the Asia-Pacific Region’ (with Julie Debeljak and Bernadette McSherry). A second ARC Linkage Grant followed in 2009: LP0990168; ‘Delivering Effective Protection to Victims and Prevention of Human Trafficking in the Greater Mekong Sub-Region’. Additionally, in 2009 she received an ARC Discovery Grant as sole Chief Investigator: DP09844404; ‘Law, Governance and Regulation of Intra-Regional Labour Migration in South East Asia: An Agenda for Protection and Development’.
As a result of research conducted under these projects Susan has extensive experience researching in SEA. The issue of statelessness is a relevant vulnerability factor in human trafficking, especially regarding children of migrant workers and victims of forced marriage (as detailed in two reports arising under LP0990168). The issue of citizenship is important to understanding the rights of migrant workers. Susan’s current ARC Discovery Grant is directly relevant to these issues as it has a focus on the nationality and rights of children of marriage migrants, many of whom are stateless as a result of operation of laws. Through this project, her geographic focus extends to East Asia (Taiwan and South Korea) and her substantive focus statelessness and the rights of children.
This multi-disciplinary group will guide the research program and support the Chair.
An exciting PhD scholarship opportunity in the Peter McMullin Centre on Statelessness is now open for applications from suitably qualified scholars– both domestic and international students welcomed! For eligibility, benefits and application process details please visit Statelessness PhD Scholarship.
This scheme supports inter-disciplinary research projects in the field of statelessness research. It is with pleasure that the Statelessness Hallmark Research Initiative will offer seed funding opportunities for University of Melbourne researchers in 2018. More detailed information to come in early 2018.
The Statelessness Hallmark Research Initiative is excited to invite expressions of interest from visiting scholars of multi-disciplinary backgrounds to undertake research on the topic of statelessness. Visiting scholars are generally provided with a stipend, a workspace, computer and library access. They are highly encouraged to participate in the academic life of the University including delivering a seminar or lecture.
International visitors will require a visa. It is the visiting scholar's responsibility to obtain an appropriate visa that allows them to undertake all the activities they plan to do while in Australia.
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