Want to found a new country? Learn about the “State of Grace” — an idea from the tech community to solve the problem of statelessness among refugee children.
Here’s the problem, defined clearly by the New York Times in its recent article — As Refugees Flee, Thousands of Children Have No Country to Call Their Own: stateless children are increasingly common. 70,000 of them are born stateless each year.
These children, born outside of the internationally accepted legal system of nation states, are severely disadvantaged at birth.
As a result of statelessness, they could be denied vaccinations, basic schooling and fundamental inclusion in society.
All for the lack of a bureaucratic nicety — registration documents.
I don’t think that’s fair on those kids. I think we can do something about this.
Before diving into a solution, let’s think through the problem and how this might occur:
Imagine Baby Fayza is born tomorrow in Lebanon though her father was from Syria (but no longer around) and her mother is a Syrian refugee. The Lebanese authorities cannot issue papers for Fayza, because the father is missing.
Not a problem in itself, but think what happens down on the ground when it comes to registering Fayza at the health centre:
You can imagine the conversation that might occur:
Mother: I’d like to register my daughter
Clinic: Ok, what’s her name and date of birth
Mother: Fayza Hasan, 12th of november 2015.
Mother: We are in temporary shelter at the moment
Clinic: Ok, what about country of origin?
Mother: Well she was born here
Clinic: Does she have a birth certificate?
Clinic: Then she’s not from here. What country is she from?
Mother: She’s from no country, she is stateless.
Clinic: Hmm. I don’t have an option for that on my database. I’m sorry we can’t register her here — the computer says no.
And so Fayza when she is born tomorrow, misses out on being registered for vital vaccinations. Denied even the basics at birth, is it any wonder she goes on to miss out on school a few years later.
Now it doesn’t have to be that way.
What if the tech community united to ensure that all computer systems and forms had an option for stateless citizens?
What if we provided the pieces of paper that local clerks need to satisfy their bureaucracies?
What if we formed a new virtual country “the state of grace” -[working title] which could be an option on those computer drop down lists that prevented our fictional Fayza from being registered?
Now there is already a proposed ISO country code for stateless persons (XXA) and is rarely implemented on software drop downs. It lacks publicity and does not solve the problem of providing the bureaucrats with the documents they still require —the passport, the birth certificate, the marriage certificate, the death certificate.
So what’s the idea?
The idea of the State of Grace is as follows:
- found the State of Grace as an international NGO with a constitution (controlled by its members)
- offer refugees a registration secretariat, that for a small, fair fee, provides the key identity documents they need — passport, birth cert., marriage cert. (and, when needed, death certificate).
- allow the documents to be downloaded to any internet cafe and printed
- provide for the documents to be validated as genuine, via a web site
- publicise the new country via the mainstream media and PR
- reach out to refugee agencies to explain the service so they can offer it to their clients
- lobby the tech community to include “Grace [XAA]” as a new country in their software’s country code drop downs.
What’s the plan?
To put this into action it needs support, it needs you dear reader. We need people to be the founders of this new state! That means:
- lawyers, techies, designers, communicators, journalists, CEOs, CMOs, mums, dads, teenagers and grandparents.
Then we’ll need to kickstart it to get some funding and then next May we make it live.
So what do you think? Would you like to do something practical to help with the refugee crisis? Wouldn’t you love to add “I founded a country” to your resume?
If so then head over to the Techfugees slack community and join the #stateofgrace slack channel and say hi.