Who are these stateless persons? They are people not considered as a national by a state, people belonging to an ethnic minority not considered to be citizens, people who renounced to their nationality for several reasons, people born in territories claimed by different countries… Stateless persons are trapped in a legal limbo, affecting their life in many ways: if they are not nationals, they are deprived of basic rights as citizens. They cannot work legally, which makes them accept the worst job posts with the worst conditions to be exploited; they cannot own properties or open a bank account; they cannot have access to education (sometimes not even basic education), which prevents them from escaping from poverty; they cannot vote or be represented in governments to improve their situation; they have no access to the judicial system in case of problems or exploitation and, in some countries, they cannot even get married.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is the international UN agency mandated to protect stateless people, as well as refugees and displaced persons. But this problem is not taken seriously and very few actions have been taken. In 1954 the Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons was approved by the UN to set the base for international protection of stateless persons, and in 1961 the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness was signed, but most countries paid no attention to it. In fact, only 55 countries signed the 1954 convention and only 27 countries signed the 1961 convention. It seems that not many people are willing to get committed to improve the life conditions of stateless persons.
Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides that “everyone has the right to a nationality and no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality”. This is another right that most states do not care to comply with.Sources:
- How many countries are there in the world? A post at Delivering Data about this question: http://www.deliveringdata.com/2010/08/how-many-countries-are-there-in-world.html
- List of countries by number of inhabitants: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_population
- UNHCR website about stateless persons: http://www.unhcr.org/pages/49c3646c155.html
- Text of the Convention relating to the Status of Stateless persons approved by the UN in 1954: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/stateless.htm
- Text of the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness approved by the UN in 1961: http://untreaty.un.org/ilc/texts/instruments/english/conventions/6_1_1961.pdf
- The Universal Declaration of Human Rights: http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/index.shtml
- You can find further information about stateless persons in these reports:
- Statelessness: An Analytical Framework for Prevention, reduction and protection, a report published by UNHCR in 2008: http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/pdfid/49a28afb2.pdf
- Issue of Forced Migration Review (2009) devoted to stateless persons: http://www.fmreview.org/FMRpdfs/FMR32/FMR32.pdf