Invisible millions pay price of statelessness

Tue Aug 23, 2011 9:00am EDT
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By Emma Batha

LONDON, Aug 23 (AlertNet) - Rejected by the countries they call home and denied the most basic of rights, stateless people live in a shadowy limbo -- in the words of one such person, like being "between the earth and the sky."

Up to 15 million people are stateless, not recognized as nationals by any country. They are some of the most invisible people on the planet -- an anonymity the United Nations hopes to lift when it launches an international campaign on Thursday to highlight their plight.

"One of the big problems we have is that this simply is not recognized as being a major issue globally," said Mark Manly, head of the stateless unit at the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR.

"In the media there's very little discussion, in universities there's very little research and in the U.N., until relatively recently, there hasn't been a lot of discussion either, so the effect of all that is that we still have major gaps in our knowledge," Manly told AlertNet (, a humanitarian news service run by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Statelessness exacerbates poverty, creates social tensions, breaks up families and destroys children's futures. In some cases it can even fuel wars when disenfranchised people pick up weapons, as has happened in Ivory Coast and Democratic Republic of Congo.

Yet only 38 countries have signed the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness which marks its 50th anniversary on August 30.

One of the largest stateless groups is the Rohingyas, a Muslim people of South Asian descent refused citizenship by the Myanmar government. Hundreds of thousands are scattered throughout Bangladesh and Southeast Asia.

"There are no countries in this world for Rohingyas," said Kyaw Myint, 44, now living in Malaysia.   Continued...

<p>A Rohingya boy bathes in a common bath place in a refugee camp in Cox's Bazar, in this file picture taken August 19, 2011. REUTERS/Andrew Biraj</p>