Statelessness is like a family virus that you pass down to your children – wearing a mask and washing hands does not help!
The Radosavljevic-Dobrani are a Roma family of 11, who live in a dilapidated settlement in the northern town of Berane in Montenegro. Like many other Roma families in Montenegro, the family has no identity documents, which deprives them of basic human rights that all of us take for granted. After 35 years of life without any identity documents, Valentina Radosavljevic, finally received ID documents that will allow her to apply for a legal status in Montenegro. She will now be able to confer legal identity to her 9 children, find decent employment, go see a doctor or even open a bank account.
Until today, I felt lost all my life. You have to understand that statelessness is like a family virus – you pass it down to your children and wearing a mask and washing hands does not help. I am very happy that this nightmare is over. - Valentina Radosavljevic
Without sufficient proof of their identities, the family was trapped in a legal limbo. The situation was especially critical for the 9 children born in Montenegro, as they only had birth certificates and no citizenship. In the short time that children get to be children, statelessness can set in stone grave problems that will sentence them to a life of limited opportunities and discrimination.
Stateless children live in a world in which their status profoundly affects their ability to learn, grow and fulfill their ambitions and dreams for the future. It is heart-warming for us to see that with UNHCR’s assistance the Radosavljevic family, and especially the children, will now be able to achieve a stable legal status. If our hopes for the future generation are to be achieved, then children of this generation must be a meaningful part of the present. - Jean Yves Bouchardy, UNHCR Representative to Montenegro.
“Not being recognized as a national of any country can create insurmountable barriers to healthcare, social care, jobs and stifles overall life prospects. Statelessness can often have devastating psychological toll not only for young people, but can also rip apart entire families, as it creates legal schism. The ID documents made a huge difference in their lives,“ Valentina says. “We are now one step closer to finally making our family official. My children will not have to beg anymore, and we will be able to receive social assistance. It may seem little to others, but to us this is life-changing”.
UNHCR and its legal aid partner, the Civic Alliance, identified Valentina as a beneficiary of a novel form of support provided in cooperation with the Serbian Embassy in Montenegro since 2019. Without any identity documents, Valentina was unable to travel back home to Serbia and apply for ID card and passport. The Serbian Embassy issued an emergency travel certificate that allowed her to go back home, and with the logistical and administrative assistance from UNHCR, receive the identity documents from the Ministry of Interior of Serbia branch office.
UNHCR’s work on ending statelessness in the country is one of the major pillars of the joint UN Montenegro programme on integrated social protection and employment - called Activate!, which is funded by the UN’s Joint SDG Fund. So far, 703 people, both formerly displaced and internally displaced and those at risk of statelessness, were provided support by UNHCR for legal status regularization under this programme, which aims to enhance the capacities of the social welfare system in Montenegro and support vulnerable people in accessing social protection and employment.