What is a ‘Stateless Person’?

A stateless person in distress

It might seem unfathomable, but some people belong to no country. Imagine having no national identity, no passport or no place to really call home. Statelessness happens in a variety of ways; sometimes people are born into statelessness, sometimes they become stateless later in their lives. Many people who are stateless have never even crossed an international border or left the country they grew up in.

Citizenship and the state

Citizenship of a nation doesn’t just provide a sense of belonging. It is a bond between person and state. It gives you the right to have rights. Citizenship allows you to vote, hold office, exit or enter countries, but also allows you access to support. Denied paperwork, stateless persons cannot access housing, education,

healthcare or employment. Even relatively simple things like opening a bank account, getting a driving licence or getting married are unavailable to them.They are ‘legal ghosts’, slipping through the nets of bureaucracy. Definitive figures are hard to get, but the UNHCR estimates there are at least 10 million stateless persons worldwide.

An example of statelessness

Statelessness normally occurs because of social discrimination. Citizenship might be stripped from certain groups of people on the grounds of their ethnicity. Say, for example, the Zogs and the Pogs live in Zoobledoobleland together. If the Zogs take over, they could say that all Zogs are allowed citizenship of Zoobledoobleland, but Pogs are not. The Pogs, even though they might have never left Zoobledoobleland, are now stateless, having been discriminated against because of their ethnicity. Though this violates international law, it’s difficult to stop it from happening.

Non-state territories can also result in statelessness. Only states can have citizens, and thus is a territory is not recognised as a state, the residents there cannot be citizens. This is what has happened in the Palestinian territories. Even though Palestinians were issued Palestinian passports, many countries do not recognise their citizenship or the legitimacy of the Palestinian state. Due to the conflict between Palestine and Israel, many Palestinians have not applied for Israeli citizenship for quite understandable ideological reasons. Most Palestinians who do not have Israeli citizenship are stateless.

There are many here in the UK who have been rendered stateless. As of 2014, the Home Secretary can declare terrorism suspects stateless. The UNHCR deems that “stateless people in the UK live in constant risk of human rights abuse.” At Freeman Harris we take a very keen interest in human rights cases. With an expert team of human rights lawyers, we can help with any humanitarian or asylum cases and will deal with you with warmth and attentiveness.

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