The latest edition of Oxford University's "Forced Migration
Review" features more than 20 articles on statelessness
articles draw attention not only to this neglected issue but also provide
constructive solutions towards finding an end to the ubiquitous struggle that
affects some 12 million people from as far afield as Japan to Ecuador. Perhaps
the biggest issue at hand with statelessness is a country's failure to
acknowledge basic human rights to services such as health care, protection from
child trafficking, and the ability to pursue legal work.
The following articles in particular caught my attention.
First, The Urdu-speaking minority in Bangladesh, often referred to as
the Bihari, are one of many stateless groups of
concern to Refugees International
. Khalid Hussain's article regarding this
group stressed the neglect and denial of rights by Bangladeshi authorities after they were registered
to vote for the first time in 2008.
The Bihari have been rendered effectively stateless for over 38 years since
the 1971 war between East and West Pakistan, when the former became the
independent state of Bangladesh. Their story is similar to that of other stateless groups; no formal employment, limited access to education (10 schools for over 116 settlements) and over 3 decades of living in squalid and "severely overcrowded settlements." Many had hoped that by obtaining Bangladeshi citizenship and national ID cards, they might soon be able to employ the rights they have as citizens.
Hussain shows that it is not the case and that even obtaining passports has
proven difficult. Looking forward, we encourage the Bangladeshi government to
explore all possible solutions and utilize all resources to address the needs
of the Bihari. This may include their possible repatriation to Pakistan or the affirmation of citizenship in Bangladesh.
I was also surprised by the UN High Commissioner
for Refugees' 2008 survey in Ecuador, which revealed almost 130,000
unregistered people. Many of these are refugees fleeing violence in Colombia who
are too scared to come forward to be registered, cannot reach the nearest
registration office, or do not know their rights to request asylum. Vulnerable
to local militia groups that become suspicious of those who lack official
documentation, many have been killed for not being able to show identification.
This theme of persecution and violence prevails in issues relating to
statelessness and is also discussed in Refugees International's recent global
survey on statelessness, "Nationality
Rights for All
Fumie Azukizawa and
Chie Komai's article on stateless persons from Thailand in Japan
highlighted stateless issues in a country whose history has been largely
unaccepting of foreign born populations. Displacement, lost documents and
communication issues have prevented thousands from being able to prove their
citizenship of any country. Without legal residence they face all too familiar
issues within the stateless community that relate to a denial of human rights.
To resolve this problem, Azukizawa & Komai recommend UNHCR assistance and
that the Japanese government grant "Special Permission for Residence"
status that would afford them the right to pursue legitimate work and access health
Additional proactive programs can prevent future generations from going
through the same ordeal of being stateless. Simon Heap and Clare
Cody highlight birth registration campaigns as one such example, with over
5 million registrations confirmed by 2006. Heap and Cody provide information on
various countries where concerns over birth registration are high, and their
recommendations for flexible and mobile campaigns administered by well-trained
government staff illustrate what effective birth registration campaigns would
afford for millions of otherwise stateless people.
Refugees International's own Maureen Lynch
and Melanie Teff propose similar
ideas in their article on stateless children, who "through no fault of
their own, inherit circumstances that limit their potential." Referring to
nations that include Kuwait, Senegal and even the USA, Lynch and Teff's
advocacy for every child to be registered at birth carries a clear message, in
that without it they face "at best, an uncertain future."
Manly's reiteration of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees' willingness to
work together with humanitarians and advocates alike was a welcome read.
Through the hard work of governments, the United Nations, and non-government
organizations, the issues that have long been faced by the world's stateless
populations can be solved.
April 28, 2009
| Tagged as: Statelessness