Statelessness: The Most Forgotten Global Human Rights Problem

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Statelessness is an issue that touches people in all regions but often goes unnoticed by the world community. Stateless individuals, people who are not considered nationals under the laws of any country, number 12 million men, women and children worldwide. Around the world, those who are stateless have little legal protection or the right to participate in the political process and often have inadequate access to health and education, face dismal employment prospects, little opportunity to own property and face great obstacles to traveling.

António Guterres, of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, recently spoke at an event at the U.S. Institute of Peace highlighting the plight of stateless migrants:

Statelessness is the most forgotten global human rights problem in the world today. Everyone knows what a refugee is, but many do not know what it means to be stateless. Because they lack access to the most basic rights, many stateless people are driven to desperation. It’s something the world should be ashamed of, and at the origin of many statelessness issues is gender discrimination.

Recently, the Dominican Republic established a new law that retroactively stripped Dominican children born to foreign parents of nationality rights. This new law has caused significant hardship and civil strife throughout the country. It has left many Dominicans without access to basic rights and stripped many of their basic sense of identity. This example is just one of many throughout the world. Often statelessness is caused by racism, sexism and isolationism and is legitimized through official government actions or laws.

Nationality is a fundamental human right that millions of people in the world do not enjoy. It is a foundation of identity, dignity, justice and security. For the approximately 4,000 stateless people in the United States, U.S. immigration law does not provide any path to citizenship. As these migrants have no lawfully recognized status in the United States, they cannot be returned to any country but can run the risk of being detained indefinitely.

The Refugee Protection Act of 2011 would create a process to provide conditional lawful resident status to stateless migrants in the United States. Visit the LIRS Action Center to stand for solutions to statelessness.

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