Stateless People
Statelessness is a phenomenon that affects an estimated 10 million people globally. Those affected have been denied citizenship and are refused self-identification and other government documentation necessary for acquiring rights granted by the state.

Photojournalist Greg Constantine stumbled upon the issue of statelessness in 2002. In response, he created the project Nowhere People and for 10 years traveled to the impoverished communities where statelessness is most common. Utilizing his photojournalism skills, Constantine has been able to put a face to the issue of statelessness and share the stories of those affected by it. His mission, he explains, “aims to show the human toll the denial of citizenship has claimed on people and ethnic groups,” and to “provide tangible documentation of proof that millions of people hidden and forgotten all over the world actually exist.” The Nowhere People project has aroused awareness and drawn in advocacy from various organizations that share the same mission.

One of the many organizations fighting statelessness is the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). In 2014, the UNHCR launched the Campaign to End Statelessness — #IBelong — within 10 years. Through establishing coalitions with governments, organizations and stateless groups, the UNHCR has been able to erect a global alliance that offers supportive assistance for stateless people.

The UNHCR emphasizes that political support and involvement must occur in order for statelessness to end. Suggested political involvement of the states includes law and policy reform, the protection of children from statelessness, ending any discrimination that prohibits nationality, providing protection for migrants and appropriately providing identification documents.

Due to early efforts of the UNHCR, four million stateless people have been granted nationality since 2003. Following the launch of the Campaign to End Statelessness, the UNHCR has succeeded in expanding its budget and in 2015, held a budget of $68 million. Additionally, they have been able to send out specialists to foster relations and work collectively with other organizations and national governments.

Stateless people face insecurities every day surrounding their livelihood. Basic human rights are jeopardized, safety is uncertain, poverty is a reality and opportunity is hindered. Projects such as Nowhere People, along with the efforts of UNHCR and other allied organizations, not only offer hope that those experiencing statelessness will one day obtain nationality but also provides a nearer future for efficiently managing the progress of moving out of poverty.

Amy Williams

Photo: Flickr

Displaced Individuals
One of the biggest issues humanitarian agencies face today involves counting the number of displaced individuals in stateless populations globally. Stateless people, or those who are not recognized as nationals of any country, are often denied human rights and services, are forced to live out of the way of modern society and are undocumented and unseen by political officials. They often have limited access to employment opportunities, healthcare, education and protection. Clearly, these groups of people are in critical need of aid, but because many organizations have no idea of the sheer number of those in need, they have limited access to it.

There are many causes of statelessness. Lack of birth registration, changing national boundaries or discriminatory policies are some sources. For example, Myanmar refuses to recognize its more than 1.3 million Rohingya people, who face violent backlash, homelessness and disease. In Zimbabwe, people born to foreign parents became stateless as a result of the country’s 2001 Citizenship Act. The UN estimates there are 700,000 undocumented people in the Ivory Coast alone. Further, many stateless people are hesitant to identify themselves as such because it leads to further exclusion: they fear the stigma, and further danger, it will attract.

Last year, the UN launched a campaign aiming to end the invisibility of stateless people by 2024. It has developed a plan working to improve qualitative and quantitative measures in countries all around the world to improve the recognition of these people and increase their access to necessary aid. Presently, the UN has only counted 3.5 million such people from 77 countries, but it estimates that there are at least 10 million stateless people on Earth.

There are significant challenges facing these “counters,” however. For one, organizations such as the UN can not rely on national governments to help them number their stateless populations. Because many countries refuse to recognize these populations due to their own policies or border changes, getting proper numbers would require going door to door surveying individual households. The UN plans on focusing on countries that have recently experienced changes in boundary lines, such as South Sudan or former USSR countries. There are also many people who are not explicitly stateless — they claim nationality in a certain country — but who cannot return to that country due to conflict, and thus cannot seek refuge from other countries or aid organizations because stateless aid does not apply to them. There is much to be done beyond simply recognizing the problem that is undocumented populations.

However, efforts to put a number on undocumented people around the world will encourage aid organizations to provide these people with the help they so desperately need. Organizations will be able to design better policies and programs to help a broader number of stateless people. Though counting uncountable people comes with numerous challenges, it is an effort that will bring about numerous changes and rewards.

Jenny Wheeler

Sources: IRIN News, UNHCR
Photo: Flickr