By Katie Nguyen
LONDON (AlertNet) - Croatia, Nigeria and the Philippines became parties to one or both of the international treaties on statelessness this week, but more countries need to follow suit, the U.N. refugee agency said on Friday.
UNHCR has been spearheading a campaign to highlight the plight of an estimated 12 million stateless people around the world. Without a nationality, stateless people usually lack identity papers and are deprived of access to education, housing, healthcare and formal employment.
Statelessness, which is most widespread in parts of Southeast Asia, Central Asia, Eastern Europe and the Middle East, exacerbates poverty, creates social tensions and can divide families.
UNHCR said the Philippines became the first Southeast Asian country to become party to 1954 Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, while Croatia and Nigeria have ratified both that treaty and the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness.
"Given Nigeria's diplomatic weight, we expect the country's accession to boost efforts at the international level to promote accession and address statelessness in Africa," UNHCR said in a statement.
Out of the 193 U.N. member states, only 68 countries are parties to the 1954 Convention and 40 have signed the 1961 Convention.
"...these figures are still disappointingly low. International support is growing but we still lack the critical mass to make a substantial difference," UNHCR said.
(Editing by Rebekah Curtis)