UNHCR urges the United States to strengthen its fight against statelessness

Press Releases, 10 December 2012

Washington, DC, December 10, 2012 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency and the Open Society Justice Initiative are jointly appealing to the U.S. Government to take further action to end the hardships facing stateless people in the United States. In a report released today, Citizens of Nowhere: Solutions for the Stateless in the U.S. the two organizations recommend changes that include action by the U.S. Congress and the Administration to resolve statelessness in the United States.

"For millions of people around the world statelessness is all too real. It means living without rights that most people take for granted, being at constant risk of detention, and having a life of ever-present fear and uncertainty," said Vincent Cochetel, UNHCR's Washington-based regional representative. "The U.S. has a long history as a global leader in human rights. At a December 2011 UNHCR ministerial conference in Geneva, the United States pledged to undertake important actions to reduce statelessness, both internationally and domestically. Meaningful steps toward fulfilling those pledges have already been taken, and the recommendations in our report provide a path for the United States to build on those actions and set a true example for other nations in providing solutions to statelessness."

Stateless individuals are people deprived of a citizenship and its benefits. As such, many lack full access to services. There are up to 12 million such people worldwide, although in the absence of reliable statistics it is hard to know precise numbers including of those living in the United States. Stateless people in the United States cannot travel outside the country and must report to immigration authorities from once per week to once per year.

"I wish nobody would have to go through the same thing that I am going through," said Mikhail Sebastian, a stateless man from the former Soviet Union, who is presently stranded in American Samoa, a U.S. territory. Being stateless he faces difficulties in returning to his home in the United States. His story illuminates the challenges that many stateless people in the U.S. face. Without a legal framework allowing them to apply for residency and eventually obtain citizenship, they live their lives in permanent limbo.

Many stateless people, like Sebastian, once had a nationality but lost it when the countries they were citizens of ceased to exist. Some have been arbitrarily stripped of their nationality, often because of their race. Others have been without citizenship since birth, for example in countries where flawed nationality laws mean women are not allowed to pass on nationality to their children. All are "stateless" citizens of nowhere. UNHCR hopes the United States will help end that situation for stateless people within its borders, while continuing to lead efforts to identify, reduce and end statelessness globally.

Link to video "Stateless in American Samoa"

Background Note

UNHCR is campaigning to end statelessness worldwide. In December 2011 at a global ministerial meeting held in Geneva, 61 governments pledged to take action on statelessness, including the United States. Since UNHCR's campaign started in 2010, fifteen states have acceded to one or both of the United Nations Statelessness Conventions. These are the 1954 Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons and the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness.

For further information please contact:

Charity Tooze on +1 202 591 5443, e-mail tooze@unchr.org

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UN Conventions on Statelessness

The two UN statelessness conventions are the key legal instruments in the protection of stateless people around the world.

State Action on Statelessness

Action taken by states, including follow-up on pledges made at UNHCR's 2011 ministerial meeting in Geneva.

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Stateless People

Millions of stateless people are left in a legal limbo, with limited basic rights.

Statelessness Around the World

At least 10 million people in the world today are stateless. They are told that they don't belong anywhere. They are denied a nationality. And without one, they are denied their basic rights. From the moment they are born they are deprived of not only citizenship but, in many cases, even documentation of their birth. Many struggle throughout their lives with limited or no access to education, health care, employment, freedom of movement or sense of security. Many are unable to marry, while some people choose not to have children just to avoid passing on the stigma of statelessness. Even at the end of their lives, many stateless people are denied the dignity of a death certificate and proper burial.

The human impact of statelessness is tremendous. Generations and entire communities can be affected. But, with political will, statelessness is relatively easy to resolve. Thanks to government action, more than 4 million stateless people acquired a nationality between 2003 and 2013 or had their nationality confirmed. Between 2004 and 2014, twelve countries took steps to remove gender discrimination from their nationality laws - action that is vital to ensuring children are not left stateless if their fathers are stateless or unable to confer their nationality. Between 2011 and 2014, there were 42 accessions to the two statelessness conventions - indication of a growing consensus on the need to tackle statelessness. UNHCR's 10-year Campaign to End Statelessness seeks to give impetus to this. The campaign calls on states to take 10 actions that would bring a definitive end to this problem and the suffering it causes.

These images are available for use only to illustrate articles related to UNHCR statelessness campaign. They are not available for archiving, resale, redistribution, syndication or third party licensing, but only for one-time print/online usage. All images must be properly credited UNHCR/photographer's name

Statelessness Around the World

Statelessness in Kyrgyzstan

Two decades after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, thousands of people in former Soviet republics like Kyrgyzstan are still facing problems with citizenship. UNHCR has identified more than 20,000 stateless people in the Central Asian nation. These people are not considered as nationals under the laws of any country. While many in principle fall under the Kyrgyz citizenship law, they have not been confirmed as nationals under the existing procedures.

Most of the stateless people in Kyrgyzstan have lived there for many years, have close family links in the country and are culturally and socially well-integrated. But because they lack citizenship documents, these folk are often unable to do the things that most people take for granted, including registering a marriage or the birth of a child, travelling within Kyrgyzstan and overseas, receiving pensions or social allowances or owning property. The stateless are more vulnerable to economic hardship, prone to higher unemployment and do not enjoy full access to education and medical services.

Since independence in 1991, Kyrgyzstan has taken many positive steps to reduce and prevent statelessness. And UNHCR, under its statelessness mandate, has been assisting the country by providing advice on legislation and practices as well as giving technical assistance to those charged with solving citizenship problems. The refugee agency's NGO partners provide legal counselling to stateless people and assist them in their applications for citizenship.

However, statelessness in Kyrgyzstan is complex and thousands of people, mainly women and children, still face legal, administrative and financial hurdles when seeking to confirm or acquire citizenship. In 2009, with the encouragement of UNHCR, the government adopted a national action plan to prevent and reduce statelessness. In 2011, the refugee agency will help revise the plan and take concrete steps to implement it. A concerted effort by all stakeholders is needed so that statelessness does not become a lingering problem for future generations.

Statelessness in Kyrgyzstan

Statelessness in the Dominican Republic

In the Dominican Republic, UNHCR runs programmes that benefit refugees and asylum-seekers from Haiti as well as migrants and members of their family born in the country, some of whom could be stateless or at risk of becoming stateless. Many live in bateyes, which are destitute communities on once thriving sugar cane plantations. The inhabitants have been crossing over from Haiti for decades to work in the sugar trade.

Among these initiatives, UNHCR provides legal aid, academic remedial courses and vocational training for refugees and asylum-seekers. They also support entrepreneurial initiatives and access to micro credit.

UNHCR also has an increased presence in border communities in order to promote peaceful coexistence between Dominican and Haitian populations. The UN refugee agency has found that strengthening the agricultural production capacities of both groups promotes integration and mitigates tension.

Many Haitians and Dominicans living in the dilapidated bateyes are at risk of statelessness. Stateless people are not considered as nationals by any country. This can result in them having trouble accessing and exercising basic rights, including education and medical care as well as employment, travel and housing. UNHCR aims to combat statelessness by facilitating the issuance of birth certificates for people living in the bateyes.

Statelessness in the Dominican Republic

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