One of the biggest challenges with statelessness in the U.S. is that so many people don’t know about it. And currently, the U.S. lacks any laws or policies that acknowledge and address statelessness in the U.S. — so there's a lot of work to do. You can begin by learning about these frequently asked questions.
What Causes Statelessness?
A number of complex conditions and combinations of them can cause statelessness.
Some people become stateless when their state of nationality ceases to exist, or when the territory on which they live comes under the control of another state. This was the case when the Soviet Union disintegrated, and also in the cases of Yugoslavia and Ethiopia.
Discrimination by Race, Religion, or Gender
In most large-scale statelessness situations, statelessness is a result of discrimination. Many states define their body of citizens based on ethnicity, leading to the exclusion of large groups. This violates international laws against discrimination.
The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination stated on 1 October 2014 that the "deprivation of citizenship on the basis of race, color, descent, or national or ethnic origin is a breach of States’ obligations to ensure non-discriminatory enjoyment of the right to nationality.
Although many states allow the acquisition of nationality through parental descent irrespective of where the child is born, some do not allow female citizens to confer nationality to their children. This can result in statelessness when the father is stateless, unknown, or otherwise unable to confer nationality.
Conflicts in Nationality Law
Conflicting nationality laws are one of many causes of statelessness. Nationality is usually acquired through one of two modes, although many nations recognize both modes today:
“Jus soli” ("right of the soil") denotes a regime by which nationality is acquired through birth on the territory of the state. This is common in the Americas.
Jus sanguinis ("right of blood") is a regime by which nationality is acquired through descent, usually from a parent who is a national. Almost all states in Europe, Asia, Africa, and Oceania grant citizenship at birth based upon the principle of jus sanguinis.
A person who does not have either parent eligible to pass citizenship by jus sanguinis can be stateless at birth if born in a state which does not recognize jus soli. For instance, a child born outside Canada to two Canadian parents, who were also born outside Canada to Canadian parents, would not be a Canadian citizen, since jus sanguinis is only recognized for the first generation in Canada.
If the child were born in India and neither parent had Indian citizenship, then the child would be stateless since India only confers citizenship to children born to at least one Indian parent.
People may also become stateless as a result of administrative and practical problems, especially when they are from a group whose nationality is questioned. Individuals might be entitled to citizenship but unable to undertake the necessary procedural steps. They may be required to pay excessive fees for documentation proving nationality, to provide documentation that is not available to them, or to meet unrealistic deadlines; or they may face geographic or literacy barriers.
As per the definition of a stateless person, only states can have nationals. As a result, people who are "citizens" of non-state territories are stateless.
This includes, for instance, residents of occupied territories where statehood has ceased to exist or never emerged in the first place. The Palestinian territories are the most prominent example. Others are Western Sahara and Northern Cyprus (depending on the interpretation of what constitutes statehood and sovereignty). An example not involving military occupation is American Samoa.
In rare cases, individuals may become stateless upon renouncing their citizenship. Many states do not allow citizens to renounce their nationality unless they acquire another. However, consular officials are unlikely to be familiar with the citizenship laws of all countries, so there may still be situations where renunciation leads to effective statelessness.
Who are The stateless Populations around The World?
According to UN statistics there are about 10 million stateless people worldwide, but the real number may be higher. There are many situations that leave people stateless. Here are the most common:
Wars and conflicts (Iraq, Syria)
Racism, nationalism, political discrimination against minorities, religious persecution (Dominican Republic, Estonia, Myanmar, Latvia, Kuwaiti Bidoon, Roma in Europe)
State collapse or succession (Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, South Sudan, Eritrea, Palestine)
Gender discrimination (Bahamas, Lebanon, Barbados)
Or any combination of these factors
If you belong to a group that is commonly stateless, you may also be stateless. Some commonly stateless groups include:
Roma, Egyptian and Ashkali groups in Europe are ethnic and cultural minorities in Europe historically associated with nomadism. Roma groups have been persecuted throughout European history and many are stateless.
The Rohingya are an ethnic and religious minority in Burma/Myanmar who do not qualify for citizenship under the law. Long persecuted, the Rohingya are now undergoing a genocide.
Palestinians are an ethnic and religious group from the Middle East. They became stateless during the process of creating the state of Israel. There are many Palestinians living in the US. For information on some of the legal problems faced by Palestinians in the U.S., see here.
Dominicans of Haitian Descent
The government of the Dominican Republican recently denaturalized Dominicans of Haitian descent, those with Dominican citizenship whose families were originally from Haiti, meaning that many Dominicans in the U.S. may now be stateless. Read more here.
People from Laos may also be stateless. You can read more here.
Former Soviet Block Countries and Yugoslavia
People from former Soviet Union countries like Estonia and Latvia, as well as the former Yugoslavia, like Bosnia, frequently lack citizenship because of discrimination and gaps during the succession or breakup of states. You can read more here.
South Sudan and Eritrea
Likewise, the creation of South Sudan and Eritrea has created cases of statelessness. Find out more here and here.
Countries from the British Empire
Immigrant populations during the British Empire period — people whose families migrated or were relocated during the British Empire period are often stateless, such as in countries like Malaysia and Kenya. Some countries, like Sri Lanka, have worked to resolve their cases.
Indigenous People around the World
Indigenous, nomadic and mobile peoples all over the world are at high risk of statelessness. For an example in the Central American context, see here.
Finally, a large number of refugees and displaced persons may be at risk of statelessness or become stateless due to problems with registration and documents. Examples including Syrian refugees in Lebanon and refugees in Hong Kong.
Countries with Discriminatory Nationality Laws
Discriminatory, gendered nationality laws can also create or contribute to statelessness. For an example from Nepal, see here.