All his life, Valentin Rakip felt like a stranger in his own country. But after a 12-year legal struggle, all of that is about to change – and he may even be on his way to realizing his dream of becoming a chef.
Just a few days ago, 20-year-old Valentin from Skopje, the capital of North Macedonia, was one of millions of stateless people around the world. Without a legal identity, he was never able to do things most of us take for granted, like enroll in high school, get a medical or dental exam, get a legal job, or travel abroad. outside his country.
Although he was born in North Macedonia, “I feel like a foreigner in this country,” he said with obvious pain.
Valentin fell into this limbo because his mother, a Serbian national, failed to register his birth or that of his three brothers and three sisters, and his father, a Macedonian citizen, failed to acknowledge paternity. Her mother abandoned the family several times during her childhood and left them and the country for good after her father died five years ago.
“I feel like a foreigner in this country.”
This left Valentine and his siblings to fend for themselves in a rundown house in one of the poorest neighborhoods in town, with only their friends and kind-hearted people to rely on.
It took more than half his life, but thanks to UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and a partner, the Macedonian Association of Young Lawyers, Valentin has finally been granted full citizenship and will soon receive his first national identity card. With free legal representation by a charity lawyer, Valentin managed to have his birth registered in 2017 and late last year a court upheld his father’s paternity, paving the way for Valentin to acquire nationality nine months later. Once Valentine receives an ID card, it will open the door to all legal rights of a citizen.
In 2014, UNHCR launched the #iBelong campaign to end statelessness worldwide within 10 years. The nature of the problem means it is impossible to say precisely how many stateless people there are globally, but in North Macedonia the UNHCR estimates there are at least 700 stateless people.
Some, like Valentin, do not have a birth certificate because their birth was not registered in time. Others became stateless when the former Yugoslavia broke up in 1991.
“It takes years of patient work to resolve statelessness,” said Monica Sandri, UNHCR Representative in North Macedonia, “and requires a coalition working towards this goal – the government, the United Nations, the private sector, media, academia, society as a whole.
“As our goal is to help all stateless people in this country acquire citizenship by 2024, we need to anticipate what we want to achieve and define all the steps we need to take to get there to ensure that it no one is left behind,” she added.
With this in mind, the UNHCR operation in North Macedonia is adopting an ambitious multi-year approach that focuses on solutions, such as helping Valentin and others in similar situations resolve their statelessness.
North Macedonia is one of 24 UNHCR country operations around the world adopting a similar medium- to long-term approach, and by 2024 the entire organization will transition to this longer-term planning model. term.
Although he was the second youngest of seven siblings, Valentin was the glue that held the group of parentless children together. They also relied on the vital support of a charity, the Daycare Center for Street Children.
The charity cared for the children when the parents were away, providing them with food and giving them useful lessons. “From them I learned confidence and culture,” said Valentin. “I learned everything from them, how to become a human being, how to work. If it wasn’t for them, I don’t know what I would do now.
Deprived of the opportunity to attend high school, Valentin and his siblings had to rely on informal labor, such as selling clothes in an open-air market. He was taken under the wing of a mentor at the Public Association, sold a street magazine called Face to Face (Lice v Lice in Macedonian) and started learning skills to become employable.
“I see that I am good at everything I try.”
At first, Valentin was so defeated that he couldn’t even imagine a future for himself. His mentor, Magdalena Chadinoska Kuzmanoski, remembers that he couldn’t tell him what he wanted to do because “nobody had asked him that before, so he didn’t know what to answer”.
Once he identified an interest in becoming a chef, Kuzmanoski arranged an internship for him at a hamburger restaurant, an experience that boosted Valentin’s confidence. “I see that I’m good at everything I try,” said the young man.
“From the first day of training, they congratulated me. They would even like to employ me next week, but because I don’t have any papers, they can’t yet.
This is now about to change. Once in possession of his identity card, Valentin plans to enroll in high school, be regularly employed at the burger restaurant, take culinary training, obtain a passport and travel abroad for the first time in his life.
And he hopes many more will benefit from getting a legal identity. “It’s not just me there,” Valentin said. “There are many people in the country who do not have papers. I would like to appeal to everyone to solve not only my case, but also to solve the cases of everyone else in my situation.
Now that his legal marathon is over, Valentin can’t wait to start building the life he’s always dreamed of and feel like he belongs. “I will feel at home when I have a house, health insurance, a job; when I have a good life like other citizens who have rights.
Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter