Nowhere People: UK show highlights plight of stateless in UK
Constantine's photos displayed by UNHCR at London's Saatchi Gallery demonstrate how stateless people can end up fragile and marginalised
For stateless people – of whom there are an estimated 10 million globally – daily existence can mean fear, discrimination or exclusion.
Nationality is a universal human right. But it is one that stateless people have been deprived of as a result of circumstances which are most frequently beyond their control, for example when and where they were born, or their gender.
To highlight the plight of those caught in limbo by statelessness in the UK, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is sponsoring an exhibition of photographs by the documentary photographer Greg Constantine. This first-of-its-kind show, ‘Nowhere People UK,’ will run at London’s Saatchi Gallery from 27 November to 3 December.
Constantine has dedicated much of his career to documenting stateless people around the world, from the Rohingya in Myanmar to the Bidoon in Kuwait. In his latest project, Constantine has turned his lens on the UK, capturing the lives of individuals from abroad whose lack of nationality has trapped some in a cycle of depression and destitution, leaving them on the fringes of society.
“You're like in a river and have been left to float about. There is literally nowhere. You are going nowhere.”
In the UK, as in many other countries, statelessness lives in the shadows. It is not clear how many fall into this category. While some stateless may have had their status regularized through the asylum process, only 64 have been recognised as stateless through the Home Office’s dedicated statelessness procedure, which started in 2013. This low number suggests that more needs to be done to identify and protect the stateless in the UK.
The UK is signatory to the two key international conventions addressing statelessness and is one of the few countries to introduce a procedure to identify stateless people. But with so few being recognised as stateless stateless people’s lives remain on hold; they are unable to work or gain an education, and live in fear of being detained or deported.
Constantine’s photographs offer a rare glimpse into the lives of these hidden people. The black and white pictures starkly reveal their precarious lives, hidden in the shadows.
One of the subjects is Peter, who fled political unrest in Zimbabwe 10 years ago. In the UK, Peter’s asylum claims were rejected and he spent almost 20 months in immigration detention, unable to be returned because the Embassy of Zimbabwe refused to recognise him as a citizen.
“For those who have no citizenship, they are in a limbo, because no one wants to believe them,” he said. “The authorities don’t want to believe them because they say, ‘How can you say you are somebody who doesn’t have proof where he comes from?’
“You just don’t know where to turn to,” he added. “You're like in a river and have been left to float about. There is literally nowhere. You are going nowhere.”
“Being stateless is not a choice”
‘Nowhere People UK’ launches as the plight of stateless minorities has recently caught the world’s attention.
Progress in addressing statelessness globally is mixed. The resolve needed to tackle large, protracted statelessness situations has been lacking and increased forced displacement is bringing new risks of statelessness. Since late August for example, the Rohingya minority have fled violence and persecution in Myanmar: over 600,000 are now living in Bangladesh.
Over 75% of the world’s stateless belong to minority groups like the Rohingya, the Roma in Europe and the Pemba in Kenya. A recent report from UNHCR showed how discrimination, lack of documentation, poverty and fear defined the lives of stateless minorities around the world.
At the same time, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi recently acknowledged that some “progress is happening” towards addressing statelessness worldwide. “More than 60,000 people acquired a nationality or had it confirmed in 2016,” Grandi said, “Policy reforms have been approved in Brazil, Ecuador, Kenya, Madagascar, Thailand."
UNHCR has been campaigning to improve the plight of stateless people everywhere through its iBelong campaign, which aims to end statelessness by 2024 and encourages governments to resolve existing major situations of statelessness and ensure that no child is born stateless.
UNHCR’s Representative to the UK, Gonzalo Vargas Llosa, said: The UK was one of the first countries to establish a procedure to identify stateless persons. This is an important achievement. However, it is clear that more needs to be done in the UK and abroad to ensure that stateless people are given the protection they desperately need.”
Another of Constantine’s subjects in the exhibition is Maya, 27, who was among tens of thousands of Kurdish children in Syria but whose birth was unregistered by authorities. Her family was detained in the UK after their asylum claim was rejected, but Maya has since been granted British nationality.
“Being stateless is not a choice,” Maya said. “You are born that way... It is something that someone bigger, a government or an authority, has deprived you of…I definitely felt invisible.”