Absence of official data on stateless people in Zimbabwe “problematic” – watchdog pushes for amendment of legislation

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By Anna Chibamu

HUMAN rights lobby group Amnesty International says the absence of official data on undocumented people in Zimbabwe is worrisome and problematic and has urged the state to amend legislation.

According to the UNHCR, an estimated 300 000 people in Zimbabwe are undocumented. Amnesty International however says the figure could be higher creating a “statelessness crisis” where hundreds of thousands of people have no legal status and fail to enrol into schools, and sit for public examinations among other challenges.

Giving oral evidence to the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs, Defence, Security and War Veterans on its report “We Are Like Stray Animals” released in 2021, Amnesty International urged the government to align the Citizenship Act and the Birth and Death Registration Act to the Constitution to accommodate the affected people.

The report details how Zimbabwe’s discriminatory and arbitrary nationality laws have left generations of migrant workers and their families marginalized in the one country they have ever called home.

In the report, Amnesty International lays bare the devastating consequences of the current statelessness crisis in Zimbabwe and how it has its roots in colonial history.

The British colonial government largely depended on cheap migrant labour from Malawi, Mozambique, and Zambia to grow its industries, denying people documentation to enable them to access education, work, health care, and other basics.

“In consultation with stakeholders amend the Citizenship Act and the Birth and Death Registration Act to among other issues recognize dual citizenship and allow late registration of birth and the right to a Zimbabwean nationality for migrants from SADC states born in Zimbabwe if one of the parents is a Zimbabwean or a citizen of a SADC state in line with the 2013 Constitution and relevant international norms.

“All descendants of migrant workers from Malawi, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique are granted citizenship in line with the 2013 Constitution which allows for dual citizenship. Initiate legislation for the establishment of the Citizenship and Immigration Board which shall have oversight over conferment of nationality and simplify and decentralize citizenship determination processes in line with Section 41 of the 2013 Constitution and principles of devolution,” said Amnesty International Zimbabwe executive director Lucia Masuka.

Masuka urged the government to strengthen steps that have been taken to eliminate all administrative barriers to acquiring birth certificates for all persons deprived of their nationality or at risk of being stateless and ratify the United Nations (UN)1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness and the International Convention on the protection of the Rights of Migrant workers and members of their families as a demonstration of its commitment to reduce and prevent statelessness and protect migrant workers’ rights in Zimbabwe.

Amnesty International encouraged the government to ratify the African Union Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on Specific Aspects of the Right to a Nationality and Eradication of Statelessness in Africa, allowing children without birth certificates and IDs to sit for public examinations on the strength of affidavits from school heads, parents, and legal guardians.

According to Masuka, most children were not going beyond the primary level due to the absence of documentation.

She told the Parly committee chaired by Albert Nguluvhe that all children without birth certificates must be documented and the information submitted to provincial and district registries to facilitate universal registration of all children in primary and secondary schools.

Among the recommendations, the director said the government should provide data to the Annual Education Statistics Profiles on children who have failed to enrol in schools and complete their primary and secondary education due to the unavailability of birth certificates and IDs as well as those who have failed to sit for public examinations.

This will enable the authorities to address their lack of documents and reduce the risk of them being rendered stateless.

The Amnesty International Zimbabwe presenters included Roselina Muzerengi (Campaigns Coordinator), and Lucy Chivasa (Campaigns Officer) who also made their contributions during the oral evidence hearing.

The organisation was asked to assist the Zimbabwean government in identifying and documenting stateless populations and taking measures to eradicate the problem and to support Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) through funding initiatives that advance the eradication of statelessness and monitoring the implementation of measures taken to prevent and reduce statelessness.

Committee members called for the organisation to collaborate with relevant ministries to support the affected.