Aug 23 (AlertNet) - There are an estimated 12-15 million people worldwide who are not recognized as nationals by any country. On Thursday the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR will launch a campaign to highlight the plight of stateless people. Below are examples from around the world.
MYANMAR: The Rohingyas from western Myanmar have suffered a history of abuse. Unlike the majority population, they are Muslims of South Asian descent. In 1982 Myanmar passed a law which made it impossible for them to get full citizenship. Many fled to Bangladesh in 1991 and 1992 following a government crackdown. Today, an estimated 800,000 live in Myanmar, up to 300,000 in Bangladesh and many more have fled to Southeast Asia, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. 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. It is estimated there are 93,000-180,000 Kuwaiti Bedoun in the country and many more outside. They are barred from free education, healthcare and many jobs. The government says they are illegal residents from other countries. They faced increasing hardship after the 1990-1991 Gulf War and many thousands who fled Kuwait during the Iraqi occupation were refused back after liberation.
KENYA: The Nubians have lived in Kenya for over 100 years but they are regularly denied national identity cards and passports which they need to work, vote, travel, own a mobile phone, open a bank account, attend university or enter government buildings. Nubians from Sudan first arrived in Kenya in the 19th century when they were recruited by the British to fight in East Africa. Decades of marginalization have led to desperate poverty. In March 2011, the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child found Kenya in violation of the rights of Nubian children to nationality and protection against statelessness.
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 Sabah to work, both legally and illegally, often in palm oil plantations. Without citizenship these children have no rights to education or healthcare. Many end up as child laborers. Others get involved in drugs and petty crime. Some parents do not register their children because they fear deportation or are not legally married. Others cannot afford the cost. Mass deportations mean some children get stranded without their parents.
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 fueled the country’s 2002-03 civil war. Much of the protracted peace process was about registering northerners and putting them on the electoral list if they could prove at least one parent was Ivorian.
SYRIA: In 1962 many Kurds in the northeast were stripped of citizenship. New York-based group Human Rights Watch says the move was part of a plan to “Arabize” the resource-rich region. Today there are an estimated 300,000 stateless Kurds in Syria. Their rights to education, healthcare, employment, property ownership and travel are severely limited. In reaction to this year’s uprising in the country, President Bashar al-Assad promised to give nationality to many stateless Kurds, but it is not clear how many will benefit or whether any changes will last.
NEPAL: Official figures show 800,000 people do not have confirmed nationality and cannot access key services. However, the UNHCR believes the figure is far higher. Married women cannot get a citizenship certificate without the approval of their husband or father-in-law and women married to foreigners cannot pass citizenship to their children. The U.N. refugee agency fears a proposed new constitution could exacerbate statelessness. There is also a large stateless population from neighboring Bhutan, which expelled over 100,000 people of Nepali origin in the early 1990s after stripping them of citizenship. They are also refused citizenship in Nepal. Many have been resettled in the United States.
THAILAND: More than 540,000 people are stateless. Many are members of ethnic hill tribes such as the Yao, Hmong and Karen who live in the mountainous north on the border with Myanmar and Laos and have distinct languages and cultures. The government has refused to issue them ID cards or provide state services. This has left them economically vulnerable, especially to human trafficking.
EUROPE: The Roma, an ethnic group with origins in India, are concentrated largely in central and eastern Europe. An estimated 70,000 to 80,000 have no nationality. The break-up of former Czechoslovakia and former Yugoslavia caused enormous difficulties for them when new successor states claimed they belonged somewhere else. Many other Roma in Kosovo and Bosnia have become stateless due to mass displacements during wars. Roma families often do not register the birth of a child and do not hold official property titles, preferring to pass their houses to relatives informally. This makes it difficult to prove where they are from and leaves them very vulnerable.
ESTONIA/LATVIA: When the Soviet Union broke up, many ethnic Russians were stranded in the new Baltic states. They were defined as “non-citizens” even though they had not acquired Russian citizenship. In Estonia and Latvia, ethnic Russians have had trouble obtaining citizenship and are frequently discriminated against. The UNHCR says there are over 100,000 in Estonia and 326,900 in Latvia.
DOMINICAN REPUBLIC: The government denies people of Haitian descent access to identity documents. This includes people whose grandparents were born in the Dominican Republic. The country has ignored a 2005 ruling by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights which declared that the nation must extend full citizenship to Dominicans of Haitian descent.
(Sources: UNHCR, Refugees International, Forced Migration Review, Open Society, Irish Center For Human Rights)
(AlertNet is a global humanitarian news service run by Thomson Reuters Foundation. Visit www.trust.org/alertnet)
Reporting by Emma Batha; Editing by Rebekah Curtis and Sonya Hepinstall