TOGETHER WE DID! A reflection on the impact of the COVID-19 Emergency Statelessness Fund (CESF) Consortium
In March 2020, as the world was trying to make sense of and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, stateless communities were not part of the equation. They were not even part of the conversation to determine what should and should not be in the equation. As governments across the world faced deeply challenging decisions on protecting public health while averting starvation and warding off economic disaster, it was increasingly evident and predictable, that in times of crisis, states were embracing a “citizens first” approach. Denied nationality and deprived basic rights and welfare, the stateless were already marginalised before the crisis. They now faced even greater, life-threatening marginalisation, with potentially disastrous consequences.'
At this time, the Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion (ISI) began receiving distress calls from partners – community groups, movements and networks led by stateless people – who were experiencing first hand, the life-threatening cost of excluding stateless people. It became evident that there was an urgent need for funding for local groups to serve their communities amidst the crisis, while preserving their own institutions, and for solidarity, coming together, drawing strength, inspiration and learnings from each other. The idea of an Emergency Response Fund to support a community of statelessness actors at the frontline of the crisis emerged. ISI conducted an intense two months of needs assessment, consulting, conceptualising, fundraising, and setting up the structure and modalities and targeted outreach, launching the COVID-19 Emergency Statlessness Fund (CESF) in June 2020.
The CESF was set up as a targeted and time-bound initiative to raise and channel resources to, strengthen capacities of and work in partnership with NGOs and citizenship rights activists at the frontline of the COVID-19 crisis. A Consortium model was developed with an intentionally responsive and adaptive approach led and informed by local need and leadership with an overarching supportive framework developed. The aim of all interventions supported would be to identify and work towards a systemic solution. However, where urgent humanitarian needs were identified by partners on the ground and there were no other means to address them swiftly, humanitarian relief could also be provided, offering short-term relief while working towards structural solutions.
The fund was administered by ISI, with a dedicated CESF Committee established – comprising individuals directly affected by statelessness, civil society representatives, advocates, humanitarian actors and grant makers – to advise and offer oversight, as well as being responsible for decision-making to approve larger grants. 18 groups received EUR 356,000 to implement projects in 17 countries, addressing the COVID-19 impact on stateless people’s right to nationality, documentation and legal status, right to health, equality and non-discrimination, civil and political rights and socio-economic rights, through various strategies including:
- Community outreach: awareness raising through interviews, focus groups, podcasts, radio programmes, documentaries etc.
- Paralegal support to navigate access to documentation and COVID-19 relief measures
- Research and mapping stateless communities, human rights abuses and the impact of COVID-19.
- Advocacy for inclusion of stateless people in COVID-19 relief efforts and other services.
- Advocacy for law and policy change to address structural discrimination and exclusion.
- Emergency humanitarian support as an interim relief measure.
The collective work of the CESF Consortium delivered invaluable comparative insights into the way COVID-19 disproportionately impacted stateless communities and those whose nationality is at risk. CESF members documented how existing structural discrimination heightened and came to light as a result of the pandemic, how state responses either directly or indirectly discriminated against the stateless and how the every-day deprivations that stateless people face, now had life and death implications. Their work also served as a testing ground of ideas and innovations, of what can and must be done in response efforts.
This report documents the impacts of and perspectives from each CESF member’s project in the form of a series of Consortium Heroes profile pieces. It also draws together the lessons learned from the Consortium experience as a whole, both in terms of the issues addressed as well as the strategies and approaches adopted. It is informed by direct inputs from CESF members and peer conversations, as well as the findings of a CESF Independent Evaluation Report completed by external evaluators in October 2022.
The report documents how the CESF and its learnings can pave the way for a future in which this type of thoughtful and impactful collaboration between donors, global NGOs, regional, national and community groups will become more common, more long-term and even more effective.
The Consortium stands as a powerful testament to the change that can be achieved – big and small – through collective community action, resilience and solidarity. The work of the CESF was carried out in very challenging, and at times, dangerous contexts, with many Consortium members exposed to real risks – an extension of the types of risks that citizenship rights activists and stateless communities face in ‘normal times’, with the added challenge of COVID-19 layered on top. The solidarity and support that Consortium members received when they were facing their own emergencies and crises, helped them get through. The CESF also strengthened the financial resilience of all its members at a crucial time, when groups were facing significant funding challenges and as their communities depended on them for more support. CESF grants were a lifeline for many NGOs and community groups, who’s very survival was under threat due to the wider funding climate.
Consortium members contributed to changes in law and policy, better documentation and services for their communities, better awareness and acknowledgement of the challenges faced by government authorities and UN agencies and stronger community organisation. The structural impact of this work will endure beyond the crisis sparked by the pandemic. The work of the CESF Consortium also sharpened our understanding of the nexus between structural discrimination and statelessness, with the COVID-19 crisis serving to surface long-standing and sometimes hidden challenges. Through their collective insights and active knowledge exchange, the Consortium identified a number of key steps to strengthen protection and inclusion of stateless people, informing the development of a Roadmap for Change: a practical 3-step framework for resolving and addressing the structural discrimination and exclusion of stateless people, during times of COVID-19 and beyond. The Roadmap, published in June 2021, aims to inform and guide the necessary inclusive responses of multiple stakeholders, urging them to take certain actions to:
- Check for institutional blind-spots
- Include, consultant & engage in dialogue
- Build back better
The co-designed model developed through the CESF allowed for locally responsive programmes to be developed within a broader framework of trust and practical support through peer learning and collaborative action. One of the lessons generated by the work of CESF members on the ground, across an array of contexts, is the role of trust as an integral component of meaningful inclusion and how trust can be built. It showed how stepping up support for locally designed and driven, but internationally connected initiatives that place the real needs and priorities of stateless people at the centre, will be key to Building Back Better. Another key element of the Consortium approach has been the centring of stateless people, not as platitude or in a formulaic way, but as an integral component of the modus operandi within the CESF. Moreover, the structural-humanitarian coordinated approach allowed for practical responses to urgent need while providing a solid basis for evidenced-based advocacy initiatives built on first-hand knowledge and understanding which strengthened the impact of engagement with decision-makers and stakeholders for change.
The approach taken and model adopted, with sustainable resourcing, can shape longer-term and scaled up activities towards making an even greater impact. The report closes by discussing the replicability of the CESF Consortium and ways in which it can be built on and expanded. It presents the priority issue areas identified by CESF members for further and future work, while also discussing some of the challenges ahead. The lack of mainstream recognition of the benefit of supporting the statelessness field in general and stateless led organisations/ stateless individuals in particular, and the absence of dedicated avenues to enable donors to meaningfully contribute to the work of stateless led and community groups, is of significant concern. Promoting the right to nationality, protecting the rights of stateless people and addressing the root causes of statelessness in a sustainable and impactful way over the long-term, will only be possible with the strategic and long-term support and solidarity of the donor community. Looking ahead, beyond the pandemic, the Roadmap for Change that the CESF has generated can be both a guidepost and a call to action for governments, UN agencies, NGOs, donors, affected communities and others to find new ways of working together in more equal and meaningful partnership.
Read the full report here