At the United Nations, on November 3, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Antonio Guterres, addressed a newly published report regarding stateless people: an awful “legal limbo” faced by over ten million individuals in the world.
The report – titled "I am Here, I Belong: The Urgent Need to End Child Statelessness" – was described by UNHCR as the first racially diverse survey on the views of statelessness, surveying abilities to lead happy, healthy, safe, and successful lives. From the countries of Côte d'Ivoire, Dominican Republic, Georgia, Italy, Jordan, Malaysia and Thailand, two hundred-fifty people in total (children, youth, and their parents and guardians) were surveyed. The study revealed horrific issues shared by people facing statelessness, including psychological damage – most of the children described themselves as “invisible,” “alien,” “living in a shadow,” “like a street dog” and “worthless.”
Stateless people are often denied access to schools or higher education and cannot find jobs. They most typically live in poverty, remain impoverished and are usually kept marginalized from society for generations. They are more open to exploitation, harassment, and discrimination. Many reported feeling as if they have lived their entire lives a foreigner in their own country. They have no legal right to safety, even in their home. Guterres states: “Statelessness makes people feel like their very existence is a crime… We have a historic opportunity to end the scourge of statelessness within ten years, and give back hope to millions of people. We cannot afford to fail this challenge.”
There are lots of outdated laws that keep children and families in these conditions. Twenty-seven countries in the world do not allow a mother to pass along her nationality to her child: only a father can pass along nationality. Some countries exclude citizenship rights on the basis of religion, race, or ethnicity. The UNHCR is calling for states to eliminate these laws and ensure universal birth certificates for children born in their countries. This will be the first step in ending mass statelessness.
Recent reports show that the growing number of conflicts in the world add to the issue of statelessness, displacing thousands of people into exile or stripping them of their nationality. When families are forced into becoming refugees, their children are born without nationality and the cycle of their poor quality of life continues.
The day after this report was published, on November 4, the UNHCR joined forces with the United Colors of Benetton and launched the campaign “I Belong,” which aims to draw global attention to this issue. Every 10 minutes, a child is born without nationality in the world, and so the goal of the campaign is to end statelessness by the year 2024.
Alongside the launch of the campaign, Guterres, UNHCR Special Envoy Angelina Jolie, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, High Commissioner for Human Rights, Anthony Lake, Executive Director of the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), Helen Clark, Administrator of the UN Development Programme (UNDP), Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and many other celebrities and world opinion-leaders published an open letter stating that, sixty years after the United Nations agreed to protect stateless people, “now it's time to end statelessness itself.” There is an open petition on the campaign website aiming for ten million signatures.