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Millions of stateless people left behind and excluded in COVID-19 vaccine programmes says MDX-backed report

Rohingya communities in India, Bangladesh and Malaysia are still waiting to be allocated vaccines

Vaccination of Rohingya individuals in India, following the intervention of CESF Consortium Member DAJ. Credit: Aparna Dewal, Refugee Program Coordinator

Millions of stateless people are being excluded from COVID-19 vaccines based on an international consortium’s new report.

Palestinians and Rohingya communities are among the stateless people who have been denied equal access to state vaccination programmes, the report claims.

The Global COVID-19 Consortium – set up by the Middlesex University-backed Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion (ISI) – brings together the experience and expertise of stateless activists, grassroots groups and non-governmental workers (NGOs) in 13 countries.

Its new report – Together We Can: The Covid-19 Impact on Stateless People & A Roadmap for Change  – documents the impact of the pandemic on the estimated 15 million stateless people in the world and tens of millions whose nationality is at risk.

The report highlights how:

  • Five million Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip were excluded from Israel’s vaccination programme. Only 3.6% of Palestinians had received at least one dose, and less than 1% were fully vaccinated as of May 5th
  • Rohingya communities in India, Bangladesh and Malaysia are still waiting to be allocated vaccines. “ We are afraid that our community in India will be excluded from the vaccination process,” claimed Ali Johar of the Rohingya Human Rights Initiative.
  • While it was reported in March that Rohingya refugees would be included in the national vaccine rollout in Bangladesh, the implementation of vaccinations for this community has not started.
  • Stateless people could not register in Lebanon because the pre-vaccination registration portal required inputting a nationality for vaccine registration.
  • Stateless communities and people with unresolved nationality status in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan  and Kenya, have not been included in the vaccine roll out.
  • The stateless have also been excluded from vaccinations in Cameroon due to a lack of documentation.
  • Damaging anti-Haitian rhetoric and policies may undermine vaccine access to those deemed ‘illegal migrants’ and stateless people in  the Dominican Republic.

Report co-author Amal De Chickera, co-founder of the Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion and a visiting lecturer at Middlesex University, said: “Vaccine nationalism both between and within countries, undermines public health imperatives, with devastating consequences for stateless people.

“Internationally, 85% of the world’s vaccinations have been delivered in high and upper-middle income countries, with only 0.3% being delivered in low income countries, where many stateless people live.

“At national levels, the citizens first approach taken by most states, completely excludes the stateless or pushes them to the back of vaccination queue.

“Such vaccine inequity is the latest example of how stateless people endure the combined impact of global and local inequalities.”

The Roma community in Montenegro. Credit: Robert Ivezić

Report co-author and ISI team member Ottoline Spearman added: “In reacting to COVID-19 vaccine rollouts, states have adopted a citizen first approach and by consequence the stateless are the last in line if they ever do get the vaccine but also in some countries stateless people are excluded for more sinister reasons.

"They are excluded by design or default for various political purposes.

“From a public perspective, it makes no sense to be wilfully excluding a significant proportion of the population from vaccinations.”

A stateless person is defined as someone who is "not considered as a national by any state under the operation of its law".

The Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion is based on the university campus and affiliated with the School of Law.

The report is grounded in the lived experience and emergency response of grassroots groups, stateless activists & NGOs in 13 countries - Bangladesh, the Dominican Republic, India, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Malaysia, Montenegro, Myanmar, Nepal, North Macedonia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

It includes a practical 3-step roadmap for resolving and addressing the structural discrimination and exclusion of stateless people, during COVID-19 and beyond.

Drawing on the experiences and expertise of consortium members, the roadmap can inform and guide the responses of governments, UN agencies, NGOs and others.

The report will be launched by the Global COVID-19 Consortium via public online events in Europe on Thursday June 17 from 2pm - live and recorded on YouTube - and in the Asia Pacific from 1pm on Monday June 21.

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