PILnet’s Yusra Herzi reflects on World Conference on Statelessness.

By Yusra Herzi

Picture this: A life where simple joys such as work, access to healthcare, and freedom of movement are faraway dreams, seemingly unattainable. Unfortunately, this grim truth is the daily reality for around 10 million stateless persons globally.

The recent World Conference on Statelessness held in Kuala Lumpur February 26-29, shed light on this hidden plight. For many, myself included, it was a transformative experience, offering a deep dive into the harsh realities endured by those denied not just a nationality, but the very essence of dignified existence.

Despite my extensive work with organizations led by stateless communities and my own lived experience of displacement, before attending the conference, I didn’t grasp the full scale of the problem.

Over the course of four days, I was immersed in a rich spectrum of voices: lawyers, activists, academics, artists, filmmakers, students, refugees, scholars, women, mothers, children—each offering their distinct viewpoints and first-hand knowledge of statelessness. It formed a tapestry of resilience and resolve, where stories that were once sidelined were brought to the forefront.

In addition to giving prominence to these diverse voices, the conference was also an opportunity for in-depth discussions on the consequences of statelessness and new thinking and initiatives to support stateless people. Sessions touched on topics like the socio-economic impacts of statelessness, how solutions must be led by those with lived experience of statelessness, the importance of strategic litigation and advocacy to press for policy solutions that have a practical positive effect on people’s lives, and feminist and community-based approaches to supporting stateless people. We also considered examples of successful legislation and litigation in support of stateless people in different countries.

In partnership with DLA Piper, PILnet hosted a session titled Getting the Best out of Pro Bono Support. The session focused on facilitating access to pro bono assistance for organizations led by stateless individuals. These organizations continue to come up against many legal barriers, hindering their capacity to independently seek and distribute funds, establish an office, or legally employ staff.

PILnet’s Clearinghouse – Matching Statelessness Non-Profits with Free Legal Help

At PILnet, we facilitate pro bono legal assistance for organizations providing support to stateless people, especially stateless-led organizations, through our clearinghouse; a matching platform through which we support organizations working with or led by stateless people to scope their legal needs and match them with free legal help. We do this in the context of our role as the coordinator of the Global Refugee Forum Legal Community Pledge, which is a multi-stakeholder pledging initiative that unites the legal community around a shared goal of working with refugees, stateless and other forcibly displaced people to advance their access to rights, justice and lasting solutions to their displacement.

We are committed to fostering an environment where tailored legal support is provided for various needs categories, including operational, programmatic, and hiring legal needs. Our approach involves working with a diverse range of legal and refugee rights stakeholders to address the broader context and implications within the global forced displacement community, focusing on and going beyond the legal aspects required to create sustainable solutions. This is achieved through providing outcome-focused assistance, prioritizing tangible and lasting impact for organizations working with stateless people, and fostering equitable and collaborative partnerships between those organizations, PILnet, and the legal community.

Yusra Herzi oversees PILnet’s Legal Matching Platform for statelessness and refugee rights nonprofits, the implementation of our Refugee Participation Pledge, engagement with refugee led organizations, and our PILnet-Refugee-Led Research HubLegal Fellowship Program.  Originally from Somalia and currently based in Malaysia, prior to joining PILnet Yusra worked for Asylum Access Malaysia for over three years and for a corporate law firm in Malaysia. She has extensive experience working in strategic litigation, legal empowerment and legal assistance projects with refugees.