Belgian municipalities incentivised to withdraw nationality of Palestinian children

20 Bře 2024 / Belgium / Prevention and reduction

Since August 2023, the Belgian Immigration Office has exchanged correspondence with several municipalities in Belgium to withdraw the Belgian nationality of children born in Belgium to Palestinian parents who had acquired it on the basis that they were otherwise stateless (under Article 10 of the Belgian Nationality Code). Their rationale is that these children have Palestinian nationality, and the Immigration Office is concerned that if granted Belgian nationality, so-called ‘abuses’ of the family reunification procedure could take place. This is despite the fact that the Constitution makes nationality-related issues the exclusive competency of the judiciary.

The instructions issued by the Immigration Office are considered illegal by legal experts, a consideration echoed by the Federal Ombudsperson who confirmed that the Immigration office does not have the authority to give these instructions and called for the immediate cessation of this “illegal practice”. Further to this, as a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and a State party to the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, Belgium risks violating its obligations to provide for the right of every child to be registered immediately after birth and to acquire a nationality, to respect the right of the child to preserve their identity (including nationality), to prevent and reduce statelessness on its territory, and to ensure that all  actions concerning children, including in the area of nationality, must be undertaken with the best interests of the child as a primary consideration.

In response to this, ENS has published a briefing outlining Belgium’s legal obligations and expressing serious concerns that positions such as those taken by the Immigration Office reflect an incorrect interpretation of the international customary law definition of a stateless person, are contrary to the letter and spirit of international law, and will risk increasing statelessness in Belgium.

The move by the Immigration Office will unnecessarily leave more children in limbo, unable to access their right to a nationality and exposed to the detrimental impacts of growing up stateless. Furthermore, for Palestinians who seek international protection, the consequences of governments failing to recognise them as refugees or stateless persons can be devastating.

As ENS has explained in its 2022 joint report with BADIL, Palestinians should be recognised as stateless under the 1954 Convention, unless they hold another nationality. If they are not eligible for (or are not granted) refugee status or other protection, failure to recognise statelessness often relegates Palestinians who have no other legal status to a life of instability and destitution, unable to access basic human rights, including the right to a nationality. It also means that their children may be born into serious hardship and unacknowledged statelessness.

It is therefore of utmost importance that the Belgian authorities protect and uphold the right to a nationality of every child born on its territory, in accordance with Belgium’s obligations under International Law.

Photo by Boudewijn Huysmans on Unsplash.

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