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10.03.16

No place to run: The forgotten vulnerabilities of the stateless

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Co-written by Anna Roberts & Mehgan Gallagher

The world is facing a significant humanitarian crisis around forced migration with millions fleeing their homes to escape violence, war and persecution. In parallel to the forced migration crisis is a significant, vulnerable and often overlooked group of individuals, those who are stateless.

A stateless person is someone who does not have a nationality of any country and therefore remains outside of the protection of any government and it is estimated that there are currently 10 million stateless individuals around the world. You can be born stateless if you are born in a country that does not allow for nationality based on birth location alone and the parents’ country of origin does not permit nationality based on family ties alone. You can also become stateless if you are the citizen of a state that fails, are within the jurisdiction of a new state that emerges or if any state refuses to claim you as a citizen.

Regardless of the cause of statelessness, these individuals are extremely vulnerable and disadvantaged because they have no legal status or voice in the governmental system, are excluded from entitlements such as medical services or education and may not be able to legally register birth, death or marriage. Further, stateless people may face other barriers including travel restrictions and social exclusion as well as increased vulnerability to sexual and physical violence, human trafficking, exploitation and forcible displacement.

The vulnerability of stateless individuals was first recognized and addressed at the international level following the reconfiguration of nation states after WW II through the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) which states, “everyone has the right to a nationality” and should not be deprived of his or her nationality arbitrarily. There are two international conventions designed to specifically address the vulnerabilities of the stateless, the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons and the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness. There are 89 state parties to the 1954 Convention which establishes minimum standards of treatment for stateless people, such as the right to education, housing and employment and guarantees the right to identity, travel documents and administrative assistance. There are 68 state parties to the 1961 Convention, which aims to prevent and reduce statelessness by requiring countries to establish nationality laws with safeguards to prevent statelessness both at birth and later in life and outlying safeguards to prevent statelessness in the event of loss or renunciation of nationality and state succession.

Despite the existence of these international legal tools, there are still numerous countries who have not signed up to one or either of these Conventions and millions of stateless individuals who are forced to survive outside of the protection of any government without rights to access health care, education, employment or even the right to travel. These are some of the most vulnerable and exploited individuals in the world and it is critical that we don’t lose sight of them in the conversation about the current humanitarian crisis as the international community feels out how it will prioritize and protect vulnerable communities across the globe.

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