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Explainer: Stateless groups around the world

  • Millions of people worldwide are not recognized as nationals by any country. On Thursday the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR will launch a campaign to highlight the plight of stateless people. Below are examples from around the world.

  • Myanmar: South Asian Muslims suffer history of abuse

    The Rohingyas from western Myanmar have suffered a history of abuse. Unlike the majority population, they are Muslims of South Asian descent. In 1982 Myanmar passed a law which made it impossible for them to get full citizenship. Many fled to Bangladesh in 1991 and 1992 following a government crackdown. Today, an estimated 800,000 live in Myanmar, up to 300,000 in Bangladesh and many more have fled to Southeast Asia, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Some end up sold into slavery on fishing boats and plantations.

  • Kuwait: Nomadic tribes barred from daily life

    Image: A Bedouin man tends to his sheep
    Joseph Eid  /  AFP - Getty Images
    A Bedouin man looks after his sheep near the village of Faour in the Bekaa valley in November 2010.

    Many people among the nomadic Bedouin tribes failed to acquire citizenship when the country became independent in 1961. Their descendents are known as Bedouin, which means "without" (nationality) in Arabic. It is estimated there are 93,000-180,000 Kuwaiti Bedouin in the country and many more outside. They are barred from free education, healthcare and many jobs. The government says they are illegal residents from other countries. They faced increasing hardship after the 1990-1991 Gulf War and many thousands who fled Kuwait during the Iraqi occupation were refused back after liberation.

  • Kenya: Nubian people denied an identity

    The Nubians have lived in Kenya for over 100 years but they are regularly denied national identity cards and passports which they need to work, vote, travel, own a mobile phone, open a bank account, attend university or enter government buildings. Nubians from Sudan first arrived in Kenya in the 19th century when they were recruited by the British to fight in East Africa. Decades of marginalization have led to desperate poverty. In March 2011, the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child found Kenya in violation of the rights of Nubian children to nationality and protection against statelessness.

  • Malaysia: Stateless children end up as laborers

    Tens of thousands of children in the Malaysian state of Sabah in Borneo are stateless. They are the children of Indonesians and Filipinos who have migrated to Sabah to work, both legally and illegally, often in palm oil plantations. Without citizenship these children have no rights to education or healthcare. Many end up as child laborers. Others get involved in drugs and petty crime. Some parents do not register their children because they fear deportation or are not legally married. Others cannot afford the cost. Mass deportations mean some children get stranded without their parents.

  • Ivory Coast: A foreign population fuels a civil war

    Image: Ivory Coast armed forces.
    Rebecca Blackwell  /  AP
    In this photo taken in May 2011, republican forces troops allied with President Alassane Ouattara sit guard as they drive through the village of Keibly, just outside Blolequin in western Ivory Coast.

    During the 20th century, Ivory Coast encouraged millions of immigrants, particularly from Burkina Faso, Mali and Ghana, to work on its coffee and cotton plantations. At least a quarter of the population is estimated to be of foreign descent. The issue of who is or is not Ivorian fuelled the country's 2002-03 civil war. Much of the protracted peace process was about registering northerners and putting them on the electoral list if they could prove at least one parent was Ivorian.

  • Syria: Kurds caught in an uprising

    In 1962 many Kurds in the northeast were stripped of citizenship. New York-based group Human Rights Watch says the move was part of a plan to "Arabize" the resource-rich region. Today there are an estimated 300,000 stateless Kurds in Syria. Their rights to education, healthcare, employment, property ownership and travel are severely limited. In reaction to this year's uprising in the country, President Bashar al-Assad promised to give nationality to many stateless Kurds, but it is not clear how many will benefit or whether any changes will last.

  • Nepal: New constitution could make problem worse

    Image: Stateless woman, Nina Tamang, 18
    Navesh Chitrakar  /  REUTERS
    Stateless Nina Tamang, 18, is seen as she covers herself from an umbrella while she gaze her cattle's near her home at the outskirts of Nepal's capital in August 2011.

    Official figures show 800,000 people do not have confirmed nationality and cannot access key services. However, the UNHCR believes the figure is far higher. Married women cannot get a citizenship certificate without the approval of their husband or father-in-law and women married to foreigners cannot pass citizenship to their children. The U.N. refugee agency fears a proposed new constitution could exacerbate statelessness. There is also a large stateless population from neighboring Bhutan, which expelled over 100,000 people of Nepali origin in the early 1990s after stripping them of citizenship. They are also refused citizenship in Nepal. Many have been resettled in the United States.

  • Thailand: Ethnic hill tribes left vulnerable

    Image: Hmong deported from Thailand
    Royal Thai Army  /  AFP - Getty Images
    This handout picture released by the Royal Thai Army shows a Thai policewoman carrying an ethnic Hmong refugee child during an operation to deport thousands of Hmong to Laos from the ethnic Hmong refugee camp at Huay Nam Khao in northern Phetchabun province in December 2009.

    More than 540,000 people are stateless. Many are members of ethnic hill tribes such as the Yao, Hmong and Karen who live in the mountainous north on the border with Myanmar and Laos and have distinct languages and cultures. The government has refused to issue them ID cards or provide state services. This has left them economically vulnerable, especially to human trafficking.

  • Europe: Roma struggle to prove identity

    Image: Romanian Roma women look at journalists after deportation
    Vadim Ghirda  /  AP
    Romanian Roma women look at journalists after they and more than 200 others arrived on two special flights from France, in Bucharest, Romania, in September 2010.

    The Roma, an ethnic group with origins in India, are concentrated largely in central and eastern Europe. An estimated 70,000 to 80,000 have no nationality. The break-up of former Czechoslovakia and former Yugoslavia caused enormous difficulties for them when new successor states claimed they belonged somewhere else. Many other Roma in Kosovo and Bosnia have become stateless due to mass displacements during wars. Roma families often do not register the birth of a child and do not hold official property titles, preferring to pass their houses to relatives informally. This makes it difficult to prove where they are from and leaves them very vulnerable.

  • Estonia/Latvia: 'Non-citizens' left amid rubble of Soviet Union

    When the Soviet Union broke up, many ethnic Russians were stranded in the new Baltic states. They were defined as "non-citizens" even though they had not acquired Russian citizenship. In Estonia and Latvia, ethnic Russians have had trouble obtaining citizenship and are frequently discriminated against. The UNHCR says there are over 100,000 in Estonia and 326,900 in Latvia.

  • Dominican Republic: Haitian people ignored

    The government denies people of Haitian descent access to identity documents. This includes people whose grandparents were born in the Dominican Republic. The country has ignored a 2005 ruling by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights which declared that the nation must extend full citizenship to Dominicans of Haitian descent.


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