Author: By Emma Batha
Story date: 24/11/2011
LONDON (AlertNet) Britain must end the plight of stateless people in the country, many of whom end up living destitute on the streets or locked up in detention centres, asylum experts say.
Stateless people those who are not recognised as a citizen by any country are falling between the cracks after arriving in the United Kingdom, a report by the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR and Asylum Aid says.
The report calls on the government to introduce a robust system to identify people who are stateless and grant them permission to stay where appropriate.
No one knows how many stateless people are living in Britain, but data gathered by researchers suggests their numbers increase by 50 to 100 people each year.
Although they have been told to leave, there is no other country they can turn to for help. They live a shadowy existence, often entirely reliant on friends, acquaintances or charities.
"We urgently need a more humane way for handling people forced into limbo like this," Asylum Aid's director Maurice Wren said.
Without documents, stateless people cannot get accommodation or employment and they avoid going to the doctor if they are sick for fear of ending up in detention. In many cases people have been separated from their loved ones for years, compounding their suffering.
Speaking at the report's launch in London this week, UNHCR's UK representative Roland Schilling, likened being stateless to the severe medieval punishment of exclusion from society.
The report Mapping statelessness in the United Kingdom interviewed 37 stateless people living in cities across Britain. They included people born in Bhutan, Kuwait, Chad, Liberia and Lebanon to name a few.
Of these, 28 had experienced destitution and many had slept rough at some point. A third of those interviewed had been detained for anything from three days to five years.
One person described his condition as being like "a bird with nowhere to rest on the ground, but which can't spend his whole life in the sky". Most spoke of despair, frustration and depression as they watched their life ebb away with no prospect of a future.
"More often than not the people we're seeing are going to go through all the privations of destitution, homelessness and poverty," Asylum Aid's Wren told AlertNet.
"What's particularly worrying is that, because of the British state's confusion around statelessness, it deals with them inappropriately. People are held in immigration detention many for many months where clearly they cannot be removed by virtue of the fact they are stateless.
"It's not only a waste of resources, but the psychological damage caused by detention is immeasurable."
Because there is no procedure for recognising stateless people they often try to claim asylum. But since many are not legally refugees, their claims fail. They are sometimes held in detention pending deportation even when it has been established they cannot be sent anywhere.
Wren said the stories told by the people interviewed raised significant concerns about compliance with international human rights laws and obligations.
"(Britain) should and could do more for a seemingly manageable group of stateless migrants who are left in limbo with nowhere else to go. They should not be left as nowhere people," he added.
The report says three European countries Spain, France and Hungary have procedures for recognising statelessness.
There are around 12 million stateless people in the world, according to UNHCR.
The report is part of the U.N. agency's international campaign to promote action against statelessness around the world as it marks the 50th anniversary of the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness.
Britain has signed both the 1961 convention and the 1954 convention designed to protect stateless people.
Some of the report's key recommendations:
The United Kingdom should implement an accessible procedure to identify stateless people when they come into contact with immigration control
In appropriate circumstances, this procedure should lead to a stateless person being granted leave to remain in the United Kingdom
The UK Border Agency should amend its guidance on immigration detention to expressly identify an individual's statelessness as a factor that should weigh against detention on the basis that it's likely to indicate there are no reasonable prospects of removal
The United Kingdom should ensure its laws, policies and practice relating to stateless people comply with obligations under human rights law, particularly in relation to access to employment, social assistance and healthcare.
"Between the earth and the sky" the story of Mohammed Alenezi, a Kuwaiti bedoun living in the UK
Statelessness: The world's most invisible people AlertNet multimedia package including stories and videos
Invisible millions pay price of statelessness AlertNet
(Editing by Alex Whiting)
Refugees Global Press Review
Compiled by Media Relations and Public Information Service, UNHCR
For UNHCR Internal Distribution