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Problems Faced by Stateless People

Who We Help
© 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.

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