UN: A third of the world's stateless are children

A child is born stateless every 10 minutes, the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) said as it kicked off the "I Belong" campaign to end statelessness within a decade.

UN: A third of the world's stateless are children

World Bulletin/News Desk

Every 10 minutes, a stateless baby is born, says the UN refugee agency. 

Over a third of the 10 million stateless people across the world are children, said the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on Tuesday at the launch of a global campaign aimed at eradicating statelessness in 10 years' time.

"Statelessness is inhuman. We believe it is time to end this injustice," said more than 20 celebrities and world opinion leaders in an open letter.

Guterres, Jolie and Tutu are among a host of opinion leaders and celebrities who have signed the letter calling for "10 million signatures to change 10 million lives".

Others who have signed include Iranian Nobel Peace Laureate Shirin Ebadi, opera singer Barbara Hendricks, South African musician Hugh Masekela, Afghan-born novelist Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner, and model Alek Wek.

"Statelessness can mean a life without education, medical care or legal employment... a life without the ability to move freely," says the letter.

At least 10 million people worldwide have no nationality and no access to education, healthcare and job opportunities, according to the UN refugee agency.

Myanmar has the largest stateless population with more than one million from the Rohingya Muslim minority due to ethnic, religious and other reasons.

It is followed by the Ivory Coast, Thailand, Latvia, Estonia and the Dominican Republic, Guterres said in a press conference at the UN Geneva headquarters Monday.

A total of 27 countries do not allow women to pass their nationality on to their children on an equal basis with men, said Guterres. 

"This goal to eradicate statelessness in 10 years’ time is an ambitious one, but there are reasons for us to believe that it is a possible one," he added, saying this objective was a matter of national security and stability for countries. 

In the past 10 years, 4 million stateless people have acquired a nationality, according to the UNHCR.

Guterres also warned that new instances of statelessness could emerge with the crisis in Iraq and Syria, namely citing the overwhelming number of Syrian refugees as one of the more obvious potential risks.

Over 3 million Syrian people are registered as refugees in neighboring countries and more than 6.5 million people are internally displaced inside Syria, according to the UN. 

More than 50,000 children have been born in Syrian refugee camps in neighboring countries since the beginning of the Syrian civil war.

Most of the children are entitled to the Syrian nationality, according to the report but they face difficulties in obtaining a civil birth registration. 

"We are making a big effort in Lebanon and Jordan to improve the conditions of [obtaining] birth registration," said Guterres. "Seventy percent of the newborn Syrian refugees in the neighboring countries have not yet been registered, they do not have legal birth certificates."

With regards to Palestine under Israeli occupation, Guterres said: "We are not mentioning Palestinians in these statistics because it is a complex situation."

People end up stateless for a host of reasons. Some fall through the cracks when countries break up and new ones are created. Others are stateless due to ethnic or religious discrimination or because of laws in 27 countries which prevent women passing their nationality to their children.

Where are the world's stateless people?

At least 10 million people are not recognised as nationals by any country. Here are examples from around the world.

MYANMAR: The Rohingya from western Myanmar have suffered a history of abuse. Unlike the majority population which is Buddhist, they are Muslims of South Asian descent. In 1982 Myanmar passed a law which denied them access to citizenship. Many fled to Bangladesh in 1991 and 1992 following a government crackdown. Tens of thousands more left Myanmar following ethnic violence in 2012. There are an estimated 800,000 to 1.33 million Rohingya in Myanmar and 200,000 to 500,000 in Bangladesh. Some end up sold into slavery on fishing boats and plantations.

KUWAIT: Many people among the nomadic Bedouin tribes failed to acquire citizenship when the country became independent in 1961. Their descendents are known as bedoun, which means "without" (nationality) in Arabic. There are an estimated 93,000 to 140,000 bedoun in Kuwait and many more outside. They are barred from free education, healthcare and many jobs. In recent years, bedouns have staged protests calling for the right to nationality.

IVORY COAST: During the 20th century, Ivory Coast encouraged millions of immigrants, particularly from Burkina Faso, Mali and Ghana, to work on its coffee and cotton plantations. At least a quarter of the population is estimated to be of foreign descent. The issue of who is or is not Ivorian helped to fuel the country's two civil wars. The U.N. estimates there are 700,000 stateless people in Ivory Coast. Legal reforms in 2013 allow those with deep roots in the country to apply for nationality.

SYRIA: In 1962 many Kurds in the northeast were stripped of citizenship. Human Rights Watch says the move was part of a plan to "Arabize" the resource-rich region. Before the war there were an estimated 300,000 stateless Kurds in Syria. In reaction to the Syrian uprising in 2011, President Bashar al-Assad promised to give nationality to many stateless Kurds. A 2013 estimate suggested the number of stateless had fallen to 160,000, but this is most likely because so many have fled the war. Experts have also warned that babies born to Syrian refugee women living in Lebanon and Jordan could end up stateless.

NEPAL: Hundreds of thousands of people are believed to be stateless in Nepal although there is no official figure. Part of the problem derives from laws which prevent women passing their nationality to their children. There is also a stateless population of people who were expelled by Bhutan in the 1990s.

THAILAND: More than 500,000 people are stateless. Many are from ethnic hill tribes such as the Yao, Hmong and Karen who live in the mountainous border with Myanmar and Laos and have distinct languages and cultures. The government denies them ID cards or access to state services, leaving them vulnerable to trafficking. The stateless 'Sea Gypsies' along the Andaman coast live semi-nomadic lives.

DOMINICAN REPUBLIC: Over the past decade the Dominican government has made changes to its citizenship laws mainly affecting people of Haitian descent born in the Dominican Republic. A 2013 court ruling, along with the earlier changes, has left an estimated 210,000 stateless.

IRAQ: The number of stateless has been estimated at 120,000, but the government disputes the figure and it was under review until the current crisis hit. There are several groups of stateless people, including Faili Kurds. In 1980, 220,000 to 300,000 Faili Kurds were stripped of citizenship and many forced across the border into Iran. Under a 2006 law those who were denaturalised can reacquire Iraqi nationality and many have.

ESTONIA/LATVIA/RUSSIA: When the Soviet Union broke up, many ethnic Russians were stranded in the new Baltic states and defined as "non-citizens". In Estonia and Latvia, ethnic Russians have trouble obtaining citizenship and are often discriminated against. U.N. figures for 2013 show there are over 90,000 in Estonia and over 280,000 in Latvia. In Russia there are 178,000 stateless people.

EUROPE: The Roma, an ethnic group with origins in India, are concentrated in central and eastern Europe. Tens of thousands have no nationality. The break-up of Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia caused difficulties when successor states claimed they belonged somewhere else. Other Roma in Kosovo and Bosnia have become stateless due to war-time displacement. Roma families often do not register a child's birth and do not hold official property titles, preferring to pass houses to relatives informally, making it difficult to prove where they are from.

MALAYSIA: Tens of thousands of children in the Malaysian state of Sabah in Borneo are stateless. They are the children of Indonesians and Filipinos who have migrated to work, often in palm oil plantations. They have no rights to education or healthcare and many end up as child labourers. Mass deportations mean some children get stranded without their parents.

Last Mod: 04 Kasım 2014, 12:09
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