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Nationality is a fundamental human right and a foundation of identity, dignity, justice, peace, and personal security. But statelessness (the lack of effective nationality) affects millions of people worldwide. Being stateless means having no legal protection or rights to participate in political processes, inadequate access to social services, poor employment prospects, little opportunity to own property or travel, and few protections against trafficking, harassment, and violence. Statelessness also has a disproportionate impact on women and children.
Stateless people are found in all regions of the world. Their situations of legal limbo result from many factors such as
political change, expulsion of people from a territory, discrimination,
nationality based solely on descent, and laws regulating marriage and
Stateless people are found in all regions of the world. Their situations of legal limbo result from many factors, such as state succession, expulsion of people from a territory, discrimination, nationality based solely on descent, and discriminatory nationality laws that prohibit women from passing nationality to their spouses and children.
Since 2004, Refugees International (RI) has visited almost two dozen countries to assess the situation of people who are stateless or at risk of statelessness. In 2011, RI traveled twice to Kuwait to report on the stateless bidoon; to Burma, Malaysia, and Bangladesh to document the continued statelessness of the Rohingya; and to South Sudan to begin identifying the risk of widespread nationality loss.
The global community is no longer silent about statelessness, and the relevant policies of the United Nations, the U.S. government, and other donor countries have improved. In December 2011, more than 100 countries came together in Geneva to affirm the primary international treaties to combat statelessness or make pledges consistent with them. Non-governmental agencies, legal experts, stateless individuals, and others are joining forces to gather more accurate information and reduce and prevent the incidence of this often overlooked phenomenon. Yet some 12 million people around the world are still stateless, and progress toward ending the problem is limited and slow.
Going forward, RI’s Statelessness Program aims to expand understanding of the problem of statelessness, increase recognition of the right to nationality, and promote solutions to prevent and reduce statelessness. Bold efforts to end statelessness, domestically and internationally are long overdue, and RI will work with governments and civil society to offer real solutions.
Learn more about statelessness on UNHCR's Refworld.