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Refugees: what is your nationality when you are born at sea?

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Refugees: what is your nationality when you are born at sea?

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On May 25, the Aquarius, a boat belonging to the association "SOS Méditerranée", returned from its tenth rescue operation: the lives of 388 migrants were saved.

But in the late afternoon, there was some surprising news aboard the old German coast-guard vessel: the stork had visited the ship – a little boy had just been born. His name: Alex Destiné, given in honor of the captain of the Aquarius, Alex Moroz.

The birth of little Alex Destiné raises a question under international law. While his mother was giving birth, the boat was heading towards the Italian coast, en route to Cagliari, Sardinia. On land, the people rescued by the crew of the Aquarius will be helped by the Italian Red Cross. But at the time of his birth, it is not clear if the ship was sailing in international waters or had already entered Italian territorial waters.

Two international treaties relate to the case of Alex Destiné: the Convention on the reduction of statelessness and the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea
The first text, signed in 1961 and entering into force in 1975, states in its third article that:


Notwithstanding the provisions of paragraphs 1 (b) and 2 of this Article, a child born in wedlock in the territory of a Contracting State, whose mother has the nationality of that State, shall acquire at birth that nationality if it otherwise would be stateless.

Moreover the Convention on the Law of the Sea states:

Article 91 paragraph 1: Every State shall fix the conditions for the grant of its nationality to ships, for the registration of ships in its territory, and for the right to fly its flag. Ships have the nationality of the State whose flag they are entitled to fly. There must exist a genuine link between the State and the ship.
Article 94 paragraph 1:Every State shall effectively exercise its jurisdiction and control in administrative, technical and social matters over ships flying its flag

But, as often is the case, these treaties are not ratified by all States, including the United States concerning Convention for the Law of the Sea.

And from an international perspective, a vessel comes under the nationality of the flag it flies; if a child is born in international waters and the country of the vessel’s flag recognizes the principle of ‘jus soli’ (the right of anyone born in the territory of a state to nationality or citizenship), the child should have the nationality of that country. In cases where the child is born in the territorial waters of a country, the child will have the nationality of that country. In both cases, the child also will inherit the nationality of their parents, especially in the case of countries that recognize the right of blood (jus sanguinis).

For Alex whose parents are Cameroonians, he automatically inherits the nationality of his parents, according to the code of Cameroonian nationality
(Article 6: East Cameroon: legitimate child born of Cameroonian parents).

Then comes the two cases:

• If the child was born in Italian territorial waters, the child acquires Italian citizenship because Rome recognizes the right of the soil (jus soli).

• If the child was born in international waters, the flag of the vessel is taken into account, in this case Aquarius, flying the flag of Gibraltar, a British territory overseas territories. Although special status governs the status of the territory, citizens of Gibraltar can register for British citizenship. Also, citizens of Gibraltar are recognised as “UK nationals” by the European Union. Final point: the United Kingdom is one of the five signatories to the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness.

So Alex Destiné will be Cameroonian-Italian or Cameroonian-British based on these two scenarios.

Every story can be told in many ways: see the perspectives from Euronews journalists in our other language teams.

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