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Friday, September 20, 2019
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 3 2015 (IPS) - A stateless child is born somewhere in the world every 10 minutes, and the issue of statelessness is only growing, according to a new report by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
The report, I Am Here, I Belong: The Urgent Need to End Childhood Statelessness released on Nov. 3, reveals the impact of statelessness through testimonies from over 250 children and young people across seven countries.
This is the first comprehensive report to directly engage with stateless persons on their views and challenging experiences. Among the main causes of statelessness is discrimination, the report said.
Worldwide, 27 countries have nationality laws restricting women from passing their nationality to their children on the same basis as men. This can leave a child stateless if a father is stateless or absent. This is the case in Lebanon and for Lebanese citizen Amal who has a stateless nine-year-old son.
“My children don’t have nationality because their grandfather was stateless and their father is stateless too and I can’t do anything for my children…If my children’s situation doesn’t change, they have no future,” Amal told UNHCR.
The lack of nationality and/or birth registration records also hinders the ability to access health care. In more than 30 countries, families require nationality papers to receive medical care.
After injuring his leg playing football, Pratap, a 15-year-old stateless youth from Malaysia, recalled the difficulty in receiving medical care: “I felt angry because no one wanted to help me…Is it my fault that I don’t have a nationality? I was born in this country like any other Malaysian. Why do I have to suffer this way?”
Children and youth face additional barriers to education due to their stateless status. For example, in Thailand and Italy, travel limitations and lack of access to scholarships prevent admission to higher education.
“I get pretty good grades,” said Patcharee, a stateless 15-year-old hill-tribe girl in Thailand. “But every time there is a scholarship, it is given to someone who has a national ID card,” she continued. This prevents many youth to find employment.
Jirair in Georgia, an aspiring wrestler, noted these restrictions and his frustration, stating: “The doors of the world are closed to me.”
UNHCR found that this exclusion produces a psychological toll, as stateless youth described themselves as “invisible”, “alien”, and “worthless.” Others illustrated the paradoxical feeling of belonging but being excluded.
Paloma, a 16-year-old from the Dominican Republic, told UNHCR: “I feel Dominican, regardless of documents, but people see me as less Dominican because of my lack of documents.”
The High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres noted the impact of statelessness when he said, during the launch of the report: “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.”
“All children should belong,” he continued. In the report, UNHCR urged the international community to end statelessness by taking four key steps: allow stateless children to acquire the nationality of their birth country; reform laws that prevent mothers from passing their nationality to their children; eliminate laws and practices that deny children nationality due to their ethnicity, race or religion and; ensure universal birth registration.
Under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, ratified by 194 out of 196 countries, the right of every child to a nationality is highlighted. Though the exact number is unknown, UNHCR estimates that there are at least 10 million stateless people globally. Approximately one third of them are children.
Over 97 percent of stateless persons can be found in just 20 countries including Côte d’Ivoire, the Dominican Republic, Estonia, Myanmar, and Thailand. Within the 20 countries, at least 70,000 stateless children are born each year.
To raise awareness of and promote action on the issue, in 2014, UNHCR has launched its #IBelong Campaign to End Statelessness in 10 Years.
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