Brasília, October 4, 2018 – The Ministry of Justice today granted Brazilian nationality to the sisters Maha and Souad Mamo. The naturalization was delivered during the event at the 69th session of the Executive Committee of the UN Agency for Refugees (UNHCR), which is meeting in Geneva, Switzerland. The presentation was made by the Coordinator of the National Committee for Refugees (CONARE), Bernardo Laferté, and Ambassador Maria Nazareth Farani Azevêdo, Brazil’s permanent representative to the United Nations in Geneva.
The sisters had already been recognized as stateless by Brazil – a first step towards naturalization. And the granting of nationality is considered a historical moment by the Brazilian authorities. “By granting Brazilian nationality to the Maha and Souad Maho sisters, Brazil reaffirms its tradition of welcoming the vulnerable and the uncared for, and sets an example to the world that it has been, and will always be, a country committed to the eradication of statelessness,” says Minister of Justice, Torquato Jardim.
The new Migration Law, in force since November 2017, has dedicated a special section to the protection of stateless persons, guaranteeing residence and a simplified naturalization process. According to Bernardo Laferté, whose grandfather was stateless and was received in the country, all the requirements for naturalization were fulfilled. “Brazil grants these sisters nationality, based on this special section of protection for the stateless person of the new Migration Law, reaffirming their tradition of protection of all immigrants and their commitment to reduce statelessness in the world,” he recalls.
Laferté also points out that this is the most recent stage of the country’s legislative progress in the commitment to reduce statelessness. “The commitment began with the adoption of the two forms of original nationality, by soil and blood, and now extended to those recognized as stateless through a simplified process of naturalization,” he recalls.
Statelessness – The granting of nationality to Maha and Souad Mamo complies with Brazil’s commitment to prevent and eradicate statelessness, in accordance with the UN Convention on the Status of Stateless Persons (1954) and the UN Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness (of 1961) – both promulgated by the country.
This commitment was reaffirmed by the Brazil Action Plan of 2014, in which the country established, based on regional consultations, the “Eradication of Statelessness” program – which identified the main challenges and actions required to achieve the objectives in the following decade.
According to UNHCR, there are an estimated 10 million people around the world who do not have nationality – or do not have their nationality recognized by any country. Because they do not have a birth certificate and therefore other identity documents, stateless people face numerous difficulties with simple day to day activities, such as attending a school, consulting a doctor, working or opening a bank account, for example.
Statelessness occurs for a number of reasons, such as discrimination against minorities in national legislation, failure to recognize all residents of the country as citizens when this country becomes independent (secession of states) and conflicts of laws between countries. For UNHCR, identifying and making visible the stateless people is key to facing the difficulties they face and allowing governments to prevent and reduce statelessness.
Maha Mamo – In Geneva, Maha Mamo was a keynote speaker at the “Building momentum: mid-point of the #IBelong Campaign” event – which discussed the progress and impact of the UNHCR #IBelong campaign to eradicate statelessness in the world in 2024.
Maha shared her personal trajectory and her siblings as stateless and explained the naturalization procedure facilitated by which she spent in Brazil, the country that hosted her in 2014.
Maha and his brothers were in a legal limbo that did not allow them to recognize their nationality in Lebanon, where they were born, or in Syria, where their parents came from. Because they were from different religions, the parents did not have their marriage registered in Syria. The children, who were born in Lebanon, were not recognized as Lebanese or Syrian.
Without homeland and adequate documentation, Maha and her brothers found in Brazil the place where they could claim their basic human rights. The Brazilian embassy in Lebanon was the only one to respond to Maha’s request for help, and gave her and her siblings an easy passport to enter the country.
They moved to the country in 2014 and, two years later, were recognized as refugees, with similar rights to other residents in Brazil – therefore, still without nationality. This was the first time Maha and her brothers had an ID. All obtained the National Registry of Foreigners, the first of a series of benefits that could be won by obtaining a document.
Unfortunately, the brother died victim of an assault in Brazil. But the sisters continued their journey in the country, and had their university degree revalidated by the project of the NGO Compassiva.
Throughout these years in Brazil, Maha has become a supporter of the UNHCR # IBelong campaign (to end world statelessness) and acts as a campaign activist, working tirelessly to promote the eradication of statelessness and assuming a leading role in the Americas and in the world.
In May 2016, as a youth representative, she was the only stateless person to attend the first World Humanitarian Summit to inspire and revitalize the commitment of countries to eradicate this humanitarian problem. In May 2017 she was one of the keynote speakers at a meeting of experts convened by UNHCR, the UN Human Rights Council and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
In the Americas, Maha Mamo has sensitized several government officials, parliamentarians and UNHCR staff and civil society organizations on the problem of statelessness and the importance of facilitating the naturalization of stateless persons by participating in a number of regional courses on statelessness. It also played a key role in the regional preparatory meeting for the Americas for the High Level Meeting on Statelessness to be held in Geneva in 2019.