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Problems Faced by Stateless People

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© UNHCR / G. Amarasinghe

It's difficult to imagine what life is like for people living in a kind of legal no-man's land. The hundreds of millions of us who have a nationality rarely think about the many instances in our daily lives where nationality plays a role.

Most obviously, without citizenship a person cannot vote in the country in which he or she is living. International travel becomes almost impossible if you cannot obtain a passport or other travel document. Because of this, some stateless people are illegal immigrants wherever they go: they face prolonged or indefinite detention or being shuttled back and forth between states.

Many basic services are linked to nationality. Schooling, health care, social security and retirement schemes often require being a national of that country. And in many places, stateless people are not allowed to work. Problems can arise, moreover, when those without a nationality try to register a marriage or a birth. Abuse by the authorities is a constant risk. Many stateless people simply feel like outsiders who have been rejected by the state.

Discrimination is not only a root cause, but also a result of statelessness. Where large populations are marginalized, the consequence is despair and frustration. Tensions can lead to unrest, conflict, forced displacement and regional instability. To prevent the serious consequences of statelessness for individuals and societies, the international community has agreed that all human beings should enjoy the right to a nationality.




Videos on Statelessness

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Zeinab and Manal

Zeinab and Manal: "It is an obstacle to everything: marriage, work... everything."
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I Am Stateless

Railya was born in Kazakhstan but lost her nationality with the break-up of the Soviet Union.
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Kenya: Nubians in Kibera

The Nubians came to Kenya from Sudan more than a century ago to fight for the British. After independence, many became stateless.
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Viet Nam: Without a Country

In the 1970s, thousands of people fled to Viet Nam to escape the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia. Some of those who stayed in places Like Ho Chi Minh City became stateless.
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Statelessness: A Message from UNHCR

An address from UNHCR's Director of International Protection Volker Türk to mark International Human Rights Day and the launch of a new report on Statelessness in the United States.
UNHCR : Breakthrough on StatelessnessPlay video

UNHCR : Breakthrough on Statelessness

UNHCR's ministerial conference in Geneva takes a great step forward in resolving the issue of statelessness. On the sidelines of the meeting, Serbia and Turkmenistan acceded to the statelessness conventions.
Stateless in the United StatesPlay video

Stateless in the United States

Searching for citizenship

Stateless in American Samoa: Mikhail Sebastian's Story

Mikhail Sebastian is a stateless man who has been living in the United States for more than a decade-and-a-half. In this video, he tells of the hardships he has faced and the importance of providing legal protections to stateless persons in the U.S.