Dubai: They are denied birth certificates, access to education and, upon their demise, even death certificates.
They are found all over the world and on Tuesday the United Nations Higher Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) launched a global campaign aiming to end the agony of at least 10 million stateless people around the world in the next decade, and give them their basic human rights.
“Every 10 minutes a new stateless person is born,” UN refugee chief Antonio Guterres told reporters in Geneva, describing the situation as “absolutely unacceptable” and “an anomaly in the 21st century.”
Stateless people don’t have the basic rights that most people that take for granted, such as education, health services, birth certificates and death certificates, explained a UNHCR spokesperson.
The campaign, which is titled “I Belong”, aims to highlight the “devastating lifelong consequences of statelessness” and push countries to rectify their laws to ensure no person is denied a nationality.
It is being launched amid signs of shifts in government attitudes vis-à-vis statelessness.
Today, 144 countries have signed the two treaties related to statelessness — the 1954 UN Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons and the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, UNHCR said in a statement.
Stateless people are “basically in every part of the world,” Ariane Rummery, Geneva-based UNHCR spokesperson told Gulf News in an interview.
Their numbers differ from one place to another, she added.
For example, there are over one million stateless people in Myanmar, which denies citizenship to Rohingya Muslims, according to Guterres.
While in Cote d’Ivoire, West Africa, their number is estimated at 700,000, in Thailand they are estimated at half a million people. In Latvia, there are nearly 160,000 and some 200,000 in the Dominican Republic, Ariane added.
In some places, like Latvia, stateless people have rights similar to the citizens of the country but without citizenship.
In other areas, they “have no rights at all …. this can be as simple as ID document, and think of all the things you can rely on your ID for.”
Accordingly, “they have no access to education, they can’t access employment, health care, they can’t get their birth registered and in some cases, they can’t even have a death certificate and be buried with dignity …. This can follow them from cradle to grave,” she said.
“Without a nationality you are no better than a wild animal, wandering from place to place,” said Maryam Draogo, who recently acquired Ivorian citizenship. “You’re nobody, you belong nowhere.”
Yet, there have been some examples that showed that “when there is a political will ... we can reverse the problem,” Ariane said. She gave Bangladesh as an example, where a court issued in 2008 a ruling conferring the citizenship for nearly 300,000 Urdu-speaking people, known as Biharis.
The UNHCR report does not count the case of the Palestinians, since the UN General Assembly had recognised the State of Palestine, Guterres said.
The problem for many of the 4.5 million of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza and the millions more living as refugees around the world is that the State of Palestine has yet to approve its nationality laws, he said, insisting that this “very specific situation” required a “political solution”.
Statelessness can be a result of a state succession, ethnic discrimination, religion and gender discrimination, Ariane noted. In situations of war, conflict and turmoil, it also often becomes difficult to register births, especially among refugees, leaving them stateless.
Guterres, UNHCR special envoy Angelina Jolie and more than 20 celebrities and world opinion-leaders published an open letter on Tuesday, saying that 60 years after the United Nations first agreed to protect stateless people, “now it’s time to end statelessness itself.”
— With inputs from agencies