Good News Friday: Statelessness

This week marks the 50th anniversary of the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness.

Statelessness means a lack of citizenship. It happens for a variety of reasons, including racial discrimination, unsuccessful asylum attempts, and being in the wrong place at the wrong time during a war. Some families have been stateless for generations.

Statelessness can cause severe problems. In Bucharest, I met with a stateless gypsy family who could not find employment, secure education for their children, or receive any health benefits. Add to those limitations the racial prejudice in Eastern Europe against the Roma population, and you have a recipe for disaster.

Mia’s Children, the organization I was working with in Romania, takes in children who have been dumped into garbage cans or otherwise abondoned by their parents. Because they have no paperwork to identify them, the children remain stateless for years. The staff at Mia’s Children educates them privately while working to secure birth certificates. Until they have those papers, Romania contends that the children do not exist. Authorities will tell them so in person during what must be very surreal bureaucratic meetings.

Some countries have found workable solutions to the problem. In these two videos, stateless people in Kenya and Vietnam describe the difference in their lives between being stateless for years and finally having official identification:

Kenya: Nubians in Kibera

Viet Nam: Without a Country

(Photo by Sanja Gjenero)

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