Dragana* was 16 years old and stateless. Until last year she lived in a Roma settlement in the former Yugoslavia with an abusive man who referred to himself as her uncle. She has no memory of her parents. Last year Dragana's uncle began to talk about arranging a marriage for Dragana with an older man he knew. She did not want to get married, but given her lack of legal documentation, she was not in school and had little to look forward to in her life. She wondered if this older man might provide for her better than her uncle. Later she realized that this marriage was a sham and she was being sold into prostitution. She is now in another country where she still can not gain access to the legal support that would enable her to gain documentation and go home. Now 17, Dragana feels trapped, exploited and alone.
What does statelessness look like? It’s not easy to succinctly explain the plight of the millions of people who have no legal ties to any government. For years I have struggled to identify a one-word metaphor to illustrate this widely unknown and generally overlooked human rights problem. Today I found one.