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    Ecuador, Honduras and Portugal take steps on statelessness

    A Myanmar Rohingya child looks through holes in fence around a mosque in their slum in Sittwe May 19, 2012. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
    By Katie Nguyen
    LONDON (AlertNet) – Ecuador, Honduras and Portugal are the latest countries to have become parties to one or both of the global treaties on statelessness, a problem affecting up to 12 million people worldwide, the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) said.
    Statelessness, which is most widespread in parts of Southeast Asia, Central Asia, Eastern Europe and the Middle East, exacerbates poverty, creates social tensions and can divide families.

    Without a nationality, stateless people usually do not have the identity papers that are required to access education, housing, healthcare and formal employment.

    “We are at a turning point. Fifteen states have become parties to the Conventions in the past 18 months and we know that many more are preparing to do so – in the Americas, Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East,” the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said in a statement.
    “This is unprecedented.”
    UNHCR said Ecuador became a party to the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, Honduras to the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, and Portugal became party to both conventions.
    The 1961 convention stipulates signatories must grant nationality to a person born in their territory who would otherwise be stateless. Experts say this is key to resolving the problem.
    UNHCR said with the latest accessions, 76 countries are now parties to the 1954 Convention and 48 are parties to the 1961 Convention.
    Special coverage on statelessness can be found here