GENEVA: Ten million people worldwide have no nationality, leaving them in a devastating legal limbo, the United Nations refugee agency said on Tuesday, launching a campaign to eradicate statelessness within a decade.
“Every 10 minutes a new stateless person is born,” UN refugee chief Antonio Guterres told reporters in Geneva, describing the situation as “absolutely unacceptable” and “an anomaly in the 21st century.”
With its “I Belong” campaign, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) aims to highlight the “devastating life-long consequences of statelessness” and push countries to rectify their laws to ensure no person is denied a nationality.
“Often they are excluded from cradle to grave, being denied a legal identity when they are born, access to education, health care, marriage and job opportunities during their lifetime and even the dignity of an official burial and a death certificate when they die,” the agency said in its report.
“Statelessness makes people feel like their very existence is a crime,” Guterres said.
People can become stateless from a range of reasons, like discrimination based on ethnicity, religion or gender, or when a nation state falls apart. War and conflict also often make it difficult to register births.
The report does not count the case of the Palestinians, since the UN General Assembly had recognized the State of Palestine, Guterres said.
The problem for many of the 4.5 million of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza and the millions more living as refugees around the world is that the State of Palestine has yet to approve its nationality laws, he said, insisting that this “very specific situation” required a “political solution.”
The largest number of stateless people are to be found in Myanmar, which denies citizenship to some one million Rohingya Muslims, according to Guterres.
Myanmar considers the Ro-hingya illegal migrants from Bangladesh, which in turn considers the ones who cross the border illegal migrants from Myanmar.
In both countries, the group viewed by the UN as one of the world’s most persecuted peoples faces widespread restrictions, including curbs on movement, education and marriage.
When nation states break apart, people are often also left in limbo, with more than 600,000 people for instance still left stateless after the disintegration of the Soviet Union more than 20 years ago.