Stateless children across the world share the same feelings of discrimination, frustration and despair, according to a new United Nations report published today, that warns that urgent action is needed before statelessness “sets in stone” problems haunting their childhood.
“In the short time that children get to be children, statelessness can set in stone grave problems that will haunt them throughout their childhoods and sentence them to a life of discrimination, frustration and despair,” the UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres said in a press release, adding that no child should be stateless.
The High Commissioner's Office (UNHCR) described the report – I am Here, I Belong: The Urgent Need to End Childhood Statelessness – as the first geographically diverse survey of the views of stateless children, which identifies the common problems they face as profoundly affecting their ability to enjoy childhood, lead a healthy life, study and fulfil their ambitions.
More than 250 people – including children, youth and their parents or guardians – were interviewed in Côte d'Ivoire, Dominican Republic, Georgia, Italy, Jordan, Malaysia and Thailand last July and August. Many of the dozens of young people in the seven countries said that being stateless had taken a serious psychological toll, describing themselves as “invisible,” “alien,” “living in a shadow,” “like a street dog” and “worthless.”
Children also shared about the tough challenges they face growing up, often on the margins of society, denied the rights most citizens enjoy. Many reportedly said they are often treated like foreigners in the country they have lived in all their lives.
According to UNHCR, stateless young people are often denied the opportunity to receive school qualifications, go to university and find a decent job. They face discrimination and harassment by authorities and are more vulnerable to exploitation. Their lack of nationality often sentences them and their families and communities to remain impoverished and marginalized for generations.
In addition, statelessness also affects the future of young people. One young woman in Asia told UNHCR researchers that she has been unable to take up job offers as a teacher because she is stateless and can only find work in a local shop. “I want to tell the country that there are many people like me.”
Mr. Guterres stressed that the report, released one year after the launch of UNHCR's #IBelong Campaign to End Statelessness by 2024, highlights the need to end the suffering of stateless children in a world where a child is born stateless at least every 10 minutes. During the past year, regional initiatives and action by States have seen the global community rally behind the campaign, but UNHCR is calling on more countries to support it.
In order to end statelessness, UNHCR is urging all States to allow children to gain the nationality of the country in which they are born if they would otherwise be stateless; reform laws that prevent mothers from passing their nationality to their children on an equal basis as fathers; eliminate laws and practices that deny children nationality because of their ethnicity, race or religion; and ensure universal birth registration to prevent statelessness.
Meanwhile, Mr. Guterres is at UN Headquarters in New York today to present the new report at a high-level panel discussion on the importance of the right to nationality.