Refugee Council of Australia
Citizenship ceremony

Delays in citizenship applications for permanent refugee visa holders

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Significance of citizenship for refugee and humanitarian entrants

The right to a nationality is an essential human right. Article 15 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights declares that everyone has the right to a nationality. Nationality creates rights and duties for both the State and the individual. These rights or duties are not available to a person without citizenship, resulting in a lack of opportunity, protection and participation. Citizenship is also essential in realising a number of other human rights, such as the right to take part in political affairs. While human rights apply globally, citizenship is the main way through which people can access these rights.

Citizenship has particular significance for refugee and humanitarian entrants. Refugees are, by definition, unable to return to their country of origin because of a well-founded fear of persecution or other forms of serious harm. Citizenship is therefore often the first effective and durable form of protection that many refugees receive, and is celebrated and cherished by them. For those who know what it is like to live without freedom and democracy, obtaining citizenship in a free and democratic country can be particularly meaningful. As one former refugee noted in RCOA’s community consultations:

Having a citizenship is highly valued. It gives you equal rights and equal protection for the first time. Refugees are honoured to have an Australian citizenship and we appreciate the rights, protection and obligations that comes with it. If we didn’t have an Australian citizenship we would have nowhere to go.

The acquisition of citizenship plays a central role in resolving the situation of refugee and humanitarian entrants. This is recognised by the 1951 Refugee Convention, which requires its signatories to “as far as possible facilitate the assimilation and naturalisation of refugees” and “make every effort to expedite naturalisation proceedings and to reduce as far as possible the charges and costs of such proceedings”. Further, two of the three durable solutions for refugees promoted by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) – local integration and resettlement – rely on refugees becoming citizens of another country.

International research provides evidence that people from refugee backgrounds are more likely than other migrants to invest in country-specific human capital, including through obtaining citizenship, because they lack the option to return to their homelands. For many refugee and humanitarian entrants, obtaining citizenship represents the culmination of their journey: the point at which they are no longer displaced; can rebuild their lives in safety and security; and feel the sense of belonging which was denied to them in their country of origin.

Citizenship has even greater significance for stateless people, who by definition are not recognised as nationals of any country. The status of stateless people can only be resolved by obtaining citizenship. Under the 1954 Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, Australia is required to “make every effort to expedite naturalisation proceedings and to reduce as far as possible the charges and costs of such proceedings.” This is similar to Australia’s obligations under the Refugee Convention.

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