Sans 'nationality', they are citizens of nowhere

They are approximately 15 million strong including six million children amidst them. Yet, they are the weakest section of the global demography. They are the nowhere people — stateless, as they are normally and technically called. Citizens of no country, they are often not remembered; their plights are often ignored; their ordeals and ignominious existence on our planet are not high on the global agenda. They are not voters of any country nor are they consumers in the strict sense of the term. So no one is bothered; no one is willing to spare a thought on them.

"I am like a bird with nowhere to rest on the ground but which can't spend his whole life in the sky," Yasser said to photographer Greg Constantine. He was born a Ukrainian but the break up of the Soviet Union made him a man without any nationality. Caught in a web of legal and bureaucratic logjams Yasser has not yet got back his nationality; he cannot move out beyond the city he now lives in and fears he may even get arrested anytime. He, therefore, leads a life of a person banished from the world locked up 24X7 for years on end in his own shabby room.

There are millions like him all over the world. No one knows how many are there like Yasser. United Nations says there are probably 12 million. Non-government organisations say the number is at least fifteen million. They may be 12 or 15 million around the world and the truth is that there are millions among us who do not have a country of their own, no home
and no citizenship.

And as they wake up every morning they do not wake up to a good morning but to an agonising vulnerability — rightlessness. The then law student in Georgetown University, Danielle C. Jefferis, shook the world by her moving article, Waking Up Stateless in Jerusalem, published by Huffington Post in December 2011. Most Palestinian Jerusalemites, she wrote, despite having been born in the city, do not possess citizenship rights.

Rather, they are trapped in a fine limbo between permanent residency, whereby they exercise a limited set of rights and are able to live in Jerusalem, and statelessness, whereby their permanent residency rights are revoked and they are forced to leave the city in which
they were born.

In her scholarly book, Stateless Citizenship, Shourideh C. Molavi, York University, has painted the humiliating existence of the Palestinian-Arabs living in Israel. Far from integration into the Israeli incorporation regime, Palestinians inside the state are today placed in a paradoxical situation where, as Arab citizens of a Jewish state, they are both inside and outside, host and guest, citizen and stateless.

"Through the paradigm of Stateless Citizenship, Shourideh C. Molavi examines the dynamics of exclusion of Palestinian citizens and analytically frames the mechanisms through which their statelessness is maintained."

Statelessness of millions has cost the world dearly. Rough estimates and random studies suggest that the global economy is denied of at least four per cent growth because the stateless persons do not contribute. Former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton appeared too well aware of the problem. She said, "When you deny a population the opportunity to participate you deny them the opportunity to contribute." She was right.

The world's most prominent stateless population include the Palestinians, the Romas, the Tibetans, the Kurds and the Bidoons. And by denying them to participate in the economic activities the world has not become any richer but certainly poorer.

She is 32 at present and had come to Israel from Ethiopia in the hope of a better and secured life when she was just eighteen. She is yet to get a new home, new identity and new nationality in Israel. Her endless wait for fourteen long years has been a waste so far. But, in the bargain this young lady has lost whatever she had — her nationality. In Israel she is still a stateless refugee living in conditions worse than ghettos, persecuted almost daily, humiliated every moment. She came with a dream in her heart. Today with shattered dream she seeks refuge and an escape from her ordeals in death.

Many such Ethiopian girls in Israel cannot marry. Courts, be it in Israel or elsewhere, would not accept their marriages. Because, they simply do not exist in the eye of law. Children, born out of such wedlocks are simply treated as children of no one — denied of their fundamental right to education, health and others.

These millions and their state of statelessness represent arguably the biggest tragedy of our civilisation. These millions are not tax payers, therefore, they are not governed. They are the people the states and societies simply do not want to see and remember. They are simply hoarded aside, forced to live on the fringes of societies like discards and forgotten never allowed to participate and contribute.

The reasons that have made them stateless or citizens of nowhere are many. But whatever the reasons are the insouciance our governments have shown towards them, the lack of efforts to integrate these invisible people into mainstream society are just criminal.

The author is the Opinion Editor of Times of Oman.


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