Stateless person

Stateless person

A stateless person is someone with no citizenship or nationality. It may be because the state that gave their previous nationality has ceased to exist and there is no successor state, or their nationality has been repudiated by their own state, effectively making them refugees. People may also be stateless if they are members of a group which is denied citizen status in the country on whose territory they are born, if they are born in disputed territories, if they are born in an area ruled by an entity whose independence is not internationally recognized, or if they are born on territory over which no modern state claims sovereignty.

Individuals may also become stateless voluntarily, by formally renouncing their citizenship while on foreign soil; however, not all states recognize such renunciations on the part of their citizens. Often, depending on the specific laws of the countries involved, one may not renounce a citizenship unless one is a dual citizen and can show citizenship in a country other than that of the undesired citizenship. Consulates do not want to deal with the complications associated with statelessness if they can avoid it. However, consular officials are unlikely to be familiar with all citizenship laws of all countries, so there still can be situations where statelessness might arise. For example, children born outside Canada to a Canadian parent or parents are, under certain circumstances, required to establish Canadian residency by age 28 or lose Canadian citizenship. If such a person held dual citizenship and, as a young adult, renounced the second citizenship on the strength of his or her Canadian passport, and then subsequently failed to establish the required Canadian residency, he or she could end up stateless.

Some areas, such as the West Bank which is under a military occupation by a country which does not issue passports to its residents, are home to stateless persons. In some cases, such as that of ethnic Russians in Latvia, conditions for citizenship may be problematic or difficult to satisfy. In some enclave areas, such as parts of Sudan and Afghanistan, people may have no practical contact with a potentially passport-issuing state which nominally claims sovereignty over them.

While stateless persons were more common before the 20th century, when many states were somewhat fragile entities, on September 20, 1954 the United Nations adopted the Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons: an active policy to prevent people becoming or remaining stateless. States which have ratified the Convention are bound to give stateless persons rights similar to those granted aliens of comparable status. Despite this, there are still Kurdish, Palestinian, Sahrawi and Tibetan refugees who claim asylum due to statelessness, for example.

De facto statelessness

Cases of de facto statelessness have arisen due to historical provisions of British nationality law which led to cases where people have had a British passport without right of abode in the United Kingdom. Those with such status who did not have citizenship or residence rights in any other country were effectively stateless despite holding British nationality. Examples of this include the people in Hong Kong not of Chinese descent after the turnover to the People's Republic of China in 1997.

Effective 30 April, 2003, as part of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 the United Kingdom gave most British nationals without any other citizenship the right to register as full British citizens if they wish and has hence resolved most of the British cases of effective statelessness. A similar case can be seen in illegal aliens who cannot be expelled due to specific provisions (health issues, stateless persons who by definition cannot be expelled to their "original country", refugees who are not accepted by their original state, etc.): they thus live in a judicial no man's land.

Statelessness in Brunei

Brunei Darussalam, a country in South East Asia, has many stateless persons domiciled there. An important note is that the number of stateless persons increase every year because Brunei denies every child a Brunei citizenship as long as they are born to parents who also are stateless despite being born on Brunei soil. This causes serious problems of prejudice and discrimination faced by the parents and their children especially when it comes to immigration affairs whilst traveling. Furthermore, the government of Brunei seems to prefer stateless persons to stay that way by detering any process of naturalization. After passive protests by stateless persons (who are permanent residents of Brunei but who hold an International Certificate of Identity passport not recognised by most countries) in the local newspaper, the government responded by allowing stateless persons to become citizens only if they sit for a written exam on their language proficiency in Bahasa Melayu (the local language). The test focuses on composition, comprehension, local tradition of the Malay race, local culture and knowledge of the Malay race, traditional Malay poems, the Royal Malay jargan and the names of the persons currently holding high government positions in the government such as ministers. This method of initiation is said to be problematic and unfair for many reasons one of which is that many people do not know the language proficiently and as well as local intricate Malay culture especially since a lot of such stateless persons are Chinese and especially since many of these cultures tested on are just no longer a part of many of the people's lives even to those who are citizens.

Many who go for this exam take breaks from their work to go for tuition and private study for months just to obtain such knowledge for the exam. Those who do, end up with more local traditional knowledge than most of those people who are granted citizenship naturally by birth. Many people pass this exam but many more others fail and keep on failing after numerous tries. Furthermore, the application process takes years each time. This process has been said to serve no purpose but to deny as many people as the government can from gaining citizenship. Many PR stateless persons feel that such steps by the government are unfavorable and citizenship should be granted to them by right of their birth on Brunei soil. Such practices are in contravention of Article 7 of Convention on the Rights of the Child which Brunei ratified on 26th January 1996. Article 7 states the following:

1. The child shall be registered immediately after birth and shall have the right from birth to a name, the right to acquire a nationality and as far as possible, the right to know and be cared for by his or her parents.

2. States Parties shall ensure the implementation of these rights in accordance with their national law and their obligations under the relevant international instruments in this field, in particular where the child would otherwise be stateless.

Detainees in Guantanamo Bay

While detainees in the Guantanamo Bay detention camp with citizenship in countries such as France, Britain,, Sweden or Germany have at times been released and accepted into their respective countries, other countries have refused to allow former Guantanamo detainees to enter their borders, leaving such detainees hung in a stateless limbo. 82 such prisoners exist, as of April 2007, denied asylum by the United States and blocked from entering other foreign countries. A notable group of such prisoners is the Uyghur captives in Guantanamo, members of a Turkic ethnic group in China who refuse to return to China for fear of government persecution. A few of these captives have been granted asylum by Albania, but others still remain imprisoned in Guantanamo. Other countries refusing to accept Guantanamo prisoners include Yemen and Algeria; the Washington Post reports, "Foreign governments have questioned why U.S. officials should expect other countries to pitch in, given that Washington won't offer asylum to detainees either."

United States law bans the government from shipping people to countries in which they could be persecuted or tortured; each individual case is reviewed, adding to the length of the extremely slow legal process. But even prisoners coming from a Western country are not guaranteed admittance: Britain, for example, has refused to accept six immigrants captive in Guantanamo. Human rights advocates have proposed that the US could shorten the stateless limbo in which the prisoners are held by appealing for help from an international group such as the United Nations, but the US has not done so.

In popular culture

A slightly tragicomic portrayal of this condition is the film The Terminal (2004), in which a man is forced to live in an airport due to his unrecognized citizenship status (his homeland had a military coup while he was in transit and the US government refused to recognize its new government). This story was inspired in part by the real-life story of Mehran Karimi Nasseri, who spent almost two decades in the Charles de Gaulle Airport, originally due to conflicts with French law (he refused to claim being an Iranian refugee) plus also the fact he was not welcome in his countries of origin (Iran and Belgium) nor his destination (the United Kingdom). He was eventually granted and served with French immigration documents, but subsequently refused to leave the building.

The book The Death Ship (1926), by B. Traven, describes the predicament of merchant seamen who lack documentation of citizenship and cannot find legal residence or employment in any nation.

In the made for TV movie, The Taking of Flight 847: The Uli Derickson Story (1988), the famed flight attendant Uli, played by Lindsay Wagner, is seen in a late scene singing "Heimatlos" to Castro, the ringleader of the hijackers. "Heimatlos" is a German song referring to the homeless people of the world. Which is why once the lullaby ends, Castro says, "It could be about us."

In Laurel and Hardy's last movie, Atoll K (1951), a stateless refugee Antoine, played by Max Elloy, tries to smuggle himself ashore with shipments of zoo animals. When caught, he pleads, "You land monkeys without a passport, and not human beings." Antoine agrees to sail with Laurel and Hardy to their newly inherited island, since no other land will accept him. En route they discover an uncharted new island, which they name "Crusoeland," and because Antoine was the first to set foot on it, no other nation can claim it and they are allowed to declare it an independent country. Laurel and Hardy explain Antoine's predicament. Hardy: "You see, he's what is known as a stateless man, in other words, a misplaced person." Laurel: "You see, he's lost and he can't find himself."

Famous stateless/formerly stateless people

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