An estimated ten to fifteen million people around the world are stateless, a third of whom are thought to be children. Stateless people live in all parts of the world, including Australia, and are often denied basic human rights due to their lack of legal status.
In 2018, the Peter McMullin Centre on Statelessness was established within Melbourne Law School through a generous philanthropic donation from MLS alum Peter McMullin and his wife Ruth, which was one of the most significant gifts in the history of the Law School.
The couple’s generosity established the world’s only academic research centre dedicated to the issue of statelessness. Led by international refugee and statelessness law expert Professor Michelle Foster, the Centre undertakes research, teaching and engagement activities aimed at reducing statelessness and protecting the rights of stateless people in Australia, the Asia Pacific region, and more broadly.
Professor Foster says it is difficult to accurately gauge the number of stateless people and identify their needs because, unlike refugees, stateless persons in many countries are not registered or granted a legal status and documentation.
“Statelessness is a serious human rights issue affecting millions of people globally,” Professor Foster says. “Having been overlooked for a long period it is finally receiving the attention it deserves by the international community, but so much more needs to be done in terms of understanding the scale of statelessness and developing effective responses to it.”
Since its inception the Centre has been a world leader in the research field of statelessness. Working with Katie Robertson and Dr Christoph Sperfeldt, Professor Foster and the Centre have recently undertaken a consultancy for three United Nations agencies on nomadic peoples and statelessness, co-authored a research report on stateless children in Australia which was launched in March, and later in 2021 will launch a project called Understanding Statelessness in Australian Law and Practice, funded by the Australian Research Council, that will conduct the first comprehensive study of stateless persons in Australia. This three-year mapping study aims to address the lack of proper procedures for identifying and protecting stateless persons in Australia, combining statistical analysis and interviews with advocates and service providers to help identify the needs of this vulnerable group of people.
In March 2021 the Centre commenced the Stateless Children Legal Clinic (SCLC), offering MLS Juris Doctor students the opportunity to develop practical legal skills and directly assist in the delivery of essential legal services to stateless children in their application for Australian citizenship, with potentially life-changing outcomes. The SCLC is the first stateless legal clinic of its kind in Australia, and the third of its kind globally.
What does it mean to be stateless?
A person who is not considered as a national by any state under the operation of its law, meaning they are not recognised as belonging to any country.