Liew: We must not allow stateless people to be made outsiders

Long article on statelessness reflecting her family experience and subsequent research in Malaysia, outlining the hardships and issues involved.

The Canadian examples she cited are less clear cut than stated.

In terms of data, about 80 stateless persons per month were granted permanent residence in Canada during the pre-pandemic years of 2018 and 2019, with no data on those becoming citizens on open data:

Growing up, my immigrant father used long-winded lectures to punish me. He would sit me and my siblings down and implore us to imagine what it was like to grow up like him. As we rolled our eyes, he would reiterate that because of our fortunate position in life, we shouldn’t throw it away with our misbehaviour, our relaxed attitude about our school work or lack of work ethic.

My father’s life story seemingly fits into the Canadian migrant narrative. He came as a young economic migrant, sponsored his spouse and several siblings, worked in blue-collar jobs and raised a family. But I never felt like my father’s story was typical. No one around me had the same kind of migration story. I had never heard of anyone being stateless other than members of my family.

My father was born stateless in Brunei, a country that did not and still doesn’t give citizenship to Chinese people born within its territory. A person is stateless when they have no citizenship whatsoever. People who are stateless are homeless in some respects, with no country claiming them as their own. Some may have permanent residence or temporary residence, while others have no immigration status at all.

They live in limbo because without permanent legal status such as citizenship, it is like having no legal identity. Without this, simple things many of us take for granted, such as opening a bank account or getting a driver’s licence, are just aspirations. More significant consequences include the inability to go to school or access health care. Some stateless people suffer severe consequences such as arrest, detention, deportationmental-health issuesexploitative working conditions and poverty.

As a child, I didn’t really understand the term “stateless.” At first, I thought my father meant he wasn’t given a birth certificate. This is a frequent occurrence for stateless people – the lack of documentation that registers their birth, name and legal standing. But it is more than the lack of the piece of paper that my father was referring to. It was how one could be made invisible, disposable and foreign in a country one considers their home.

My father was able to escape a life of limbo and vulnerability by immigrating to Canada. When I was younger, I thought his story was fantastical, unique and obscure. Years later, after practising immigration law and becoming a law professor, I started to see not only frequent occurrences of statelessness but a growing community of scholars writing about the topic.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that more than 10 million people around the world are stateless. The very nature of statelessness makes it impossible to know precisely how many people are stateless, and the number could be much higher given that it is governments doing the counting and stateless people have very good reasons to hide. Statelessness is not just an issue in developing countries, but exists everywhere, even in Canada and the United States.

It was its pervasiveness that led me to go back to where my family has roots to try to get a better understanding of why statelessness exists. I spent a few months in Malaysia, where there is a significant stateless population and a robust advocacy community supporting stateless people. Over chili crab in Kota Kinabalu, in a humid community centre in Klang, in the waiting room of a government registrar in Penang, and even in the air-conditioned malls of Kuala Lumpur, I met stateless people, their families, lawyers, paralegals, members of parliament, and advocates with community and non-governmental organizations.

In one meeting with a lawyer in a beautiful office of a commercial law firm in Kuala Lumpur, she showed me a file that had the client’s name on it. It was the same as my last name, Liew. At a registration rally in Penang, where 60 stateless people and their families attempted to submit citizenship applications, I sat at a table with Chinese fathers who spoke my mother tongue, Hokkien, and told me their children could not attend school because they were stateless. One father told me, “How can they tell me my own child is a foreigner when I am not!”

In these multiple encounters, I had an out-of-body sensation that I was peering into an alternate universe where I was stateless. I saw my name on legal files and documents, and I saw my own father sitting at the table with other fathers. Indeed, had my father stayed in Southeast Asia, I would be stateless today.

As an academic, I gathered firsthand accounts on how the legal system in Malaysia has failed stateless people. But behind the law is a system in place that is stacked against certain ethnic groups.

My research gave me an understanding of how vestiges of British colonial law, administrative systems and government led to the development of a racialized notion of citizenship in postcolonial Malaysia. This can be found in its constitution and other laws and is being implemented through the discretionary power of front-line clerks reviewing citizenship applications.

I saw the role that administrative and legal decisions had in creating foreigners out of kin. The starkest example was when a stateless woman told me that her citizenship was taken away at a government counter simply because she didn’t “look Malaysian.”

People who had long-standing, genuine connections and bonds with a country were nevertheless made to be outsiders. I saw, in my research, that even though one could be born in a particular country, of parents who were citizens of that country, who lived their entire life there speaking the language and performing the customs, it might not be enough. For some, if your face doesn’t look like the dominant race, you may never belong, and never be granted the coveted status emblematic of belonging – citizenship.

Months later, when I returned to Canada, I started to see the same trends in the cases I had long taught in my immigration law class. The same colonial tools were reproduced in our legal systems to claim a person as not being a citizen of Canada.

Perhaps the most glaring example was Deepan Budlakoti, who was born in Canada in 1989. The case centred around Canada’s Citizenship Act excluding birthright citizenship from those born of persons who were in the country for diplomatic reasons. The central question was whether Mr. Budlakoti’s parents could be considered employed by a foreign government at the time of his birth.

The facts are murky since a former diplomat confirmed Mr. Budlakoti’s parents quit before he was born and a doctor affirmed his parents worked for him at the time of his birth. But the federal government unearthed paperwork showing the diplomatic status of Mr. Budlakoti’s parents was valid at the time of his birth. Canadian courts have accepted the version of facts that Mr. Budlakoti’s parents, who were cooks and cleaners, were employed by the Indian embassy at the time of his birth and therefore he was excluded from acquiring citizenship by being born in Canada.

The Federal Court of Appeal found this despite the fact that Mr. Budlakoti lived in Canada all of his life and had in the past acquired a Canadian passport. Notably, the court denied such a decision would make Mr. Budlakoti stateless, finding that he may qualify for citizenship under the laws of India. This was despite the fact that in attempting to deport Mr. Budlakoti, Canada has not been able to deport him to India since it has denied he is a citizen of India.

Other cases involved stateless refugee claimants whose applications were denied because they had the mere opportunity to gain citizenship somewhere. One notable example is the case of Chime Tretsetsang, a stateless refugee from Tibet who was denied refugee protection in Canada on the flimsy notion that he could possibly obtain citizenship in India. Indeed, the court in this case refused to consider Mr. Tretsetsang stateless and maintained that he could obtain Indian citizenship despite no assurances given by India and no evidence that citizenship would be granted.

In my research, the common thread I have pulled in many cases of statelessness in Malaysia and Canada is the idea that people can be made to be foreigners even where there is little to no evidence they are citizens of another country – or even non-citizens of a country they claim to have membership in.

The mere possibility that they could be citizens of another country is all that legal decision makers have relied on. This is astonishing given the kinds of evidence people need to provide to prove anything in court. These legal findings – that persons are not stateless and are foreign citizens – are based on nothing but pure speculation.

There is a global trend where certain racialized groups will always be considered foreign, other, stranger. This is in the absence of concrete proof that they are citizens of other states. It may also contradict established facts that these people may have deep bonds with Malaysia or Canada. Such ties include birth within the territory, parents or grandparents who have permanent residence or citizenship, years of residence within the country, fluency of the language and cultural customs of the dominant culture of the state, and an absence of affinity or connections to other foreign states. These are factors long recognized in international law as demonstrating citizenship.

As I explored the legal barriers and consequences, as well as the political and social implications of how we treat stateless people, what stayed with me most was how statelessness made people feel and what it did to their conception of their own identity and where they belong.

I found stateless people exhibited a dual personality. At times they were insecure of their place and feared offending anyone around them. They exhibited a perpetual need to please, assimilate and demonstrate that they could blend in. At other times, they displayed a sharp knack for surviving, being resourceful and resilient, manifesting a stubborn insistence that they are citizens in all but name.

They were eloquent, intelligent advocates and a force that governments could not ignore or brush under the rug. I started to appreciate the performances my father carried out and the fear that still seeps out with his parental but cautionary comments to me today to not draw too much attention to myself.

While my father was able to meet the then-requirements for economic immigration to Canada, he has never forgotten the instability and uncertainty he felt as a stateless person. For the millions who remain stateless, many have no legal recourse to obtain any immigration status anywhere. Scores of stateless persons are children born into countries that refuse to treat them like kin, and they suffer when they are denied schooling, health care, jobs and even a home.

It is an urgent time to be talking about statelessness because the very act of making people stateless and declaring they are foreigners is used as a tool in troubling postcolonial contexts including the genocide of the Rohingya people in Myanmar, and the stripping of citizenship from millions of Muslims in Assam, India.

We must challenge the default position that we should necessarily trust those around us and the state in telling us who are members of our community. And we need to start conversations to find productive ways to welcome home our fellow citizens, and be critical about how a person is cast as a stranger, other and foreigner.

Jamie Chai Yun Liew is a lawyer based in Ottawa and the author of the novel Dandelion.

Source: We must not allow stateless people to be made outsiders

The Statelessness Pandemic by Laura van Waas & Natalie Brinham

Interesting detailed analysis and observations:

Legal theorists once consigned the idea of “statelessness” to the realm of fiction, because they considered it to be impossible within the state system that emerged after World War I. Every human being was supposed to be assigned a nationality and a country to call his or her own. But the war had created many refugees, and as empires disintegrated and new nation-states adopted exclusionary nationality laws, not everyone was in fact included.

At least 15 million people today are stateless, and millions more are threatened with national exclusion. The issue of statelessness thus demands urgent attention, as do works of history that shed light on the problem.

The rise of fascism in the 1930s and 1940s further exposed the fallibility of this system and the ominous reality of the state’s power to exclude people or strip them of citizenship. Across Europe, citizenship-stripping went hand in hand with genocide for Jews and other minority groups.

Following World War II, questions about the right to nationality, state power, and the limits of sovereignty loomed large in the development of human rights and international law. Could the states that were being created out of the independence movements and diminished European empires adopt nationality laws that excluded entire population groups? Did national governments hold the power to strip their own citizens of that status? Who was responsible for the newly stateless?

These issues remain highly pertinent today. Statelessness affects at least 15 million people, and the nationality of millions more is under threat, owing to an escalation of racially discriminatory policies and rhetoric in many countries. Nationality policies remain a favored tool of authoritarians, who sometimes use them in tandem with mass atrocities, as in Myanmar, where the Rohingyas have been denied citizenship and subjected to genocide and mass deportations to Bangladesh. Making matters worse, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to even more xenophobic scapegoating and ethno-nationalism, with political leaders like former US President Donald Trump and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán blaming migrants and refugees for spreading the coronavirus.

The pandemic also reminds us of the enduring influence that nationality has over our lives. Last May, Filippo Grandi, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, warned that, “The right to a nationality is a fundamental human right and in this time of crisis it can mean the difference between life or death.” When governments prioritize their citizens over others in their public-health and economic responses, the stateless suffer. Because statelessness remains a major blind spot for the institutions charged with protecting life and livelihoods, stateless people have been left further behind than ever.


At a time when statelessness demands urgent attention, two recent books provide important lessons about the nature of state power, international responses to national acts of exclusion, and the consequences of failure. Statelessness: A Modern History, by Mira L. Siegelberg of the University of Cambridge, and Denaturalized: How Thousands Lost Their Citizenship and Lives in Vichy France, by Claire Zalc, Director of the Institute of Modern and Contemporary History at the École Normale Supérieure, underscore both the historic scale of the problem and its grim costs. Each takes a different but equally meticulous approach to researching the history of the problem. And both explore how people have had their citizenship denied and revoked against the background of some of the most violent periods in modern history. Together, they remind us that the history of statelessness is a history of crumbling empires, world wars, genocides, and the emergence of an interstate system based on the formal equality of states.

Siegelberg’s work is a sweeping survey of international legal and political thought, covering a period that includes WWI, the rise of fascism in the 1930s, the Holocaust, the postwar reconstruction of the international legal order, and the independence movements of the postwar decades. Drawing on a wide variety of archival sources – including popular fiction, case law, correspondence from stateless people to the League of Nations, works of legal and political theory, and notes from negotiations on human-rights treaties – she documents how the problem of statelessness informed theories of human rights and sovereignty.

Siegelberg is concerned with how notions of statelessness developed within, and then shaped, “the political contours of the modern interstate order.” She reminds us that the concepts of citizenship and statelessness are not static. Rather, the meanings attached to these terms are constantly being reshaped and reconstructed by historic events and shifting power relations.

While Seigelberg’s book provides a comprehensive overview of international perspectives and experiences concerning statelessness and the modern state’s power to exclude, Zalc’s work focuses on Vichy France between 1940 and 1944, when Jews and others were denaturalized in increasing numbers to serve the Nazi agenda of deportation to death camps. Her detailed investigation provides unique insights into how bureaucracies in authoritarian regimes produce and reproduce violence.

Drawing on the Vichy government’s archives, Zalc follows the life stories of some of those who were naturalized as French during the interwar years, only to be stripped of their citizenship and deported under wartime France’s collaborationist regime. In parallel, she also delves into the life stories of the civil servants and judges who presided over these denaturalizations, revealing the murky boundaries between collusion and resistance to Nazi policies.


Siegelberg’s Statelessness shows us that the racial hierarchies that characterized early twentieth-century citizenship regimes gave way not to equal citizenship, as was envisaged, but rather to other forms of racism in Europe. At the same time, Zalc’s book demonstrates how processes of citizenship were racialized with the help of seemingly neutral and innocuous bureaucratic categories and data collection. Under the French Third Republic, Jewishness had been considered a private matter of faith and thus went largely unrecorded by the state. But as Zalc shows in fascinating detail, the categorizations of “Jew” and “Israelite” were deciphered and applied retroactively to stigmatize and discriminate. With a new racialized definition of “Jew,” and under pressure from the occupying Nazi regime to identify, count, and denaturalize Jews according to quotas, individual citizen files were scrutinized for evidence of Jewishness.

This process relied on proxy indicators. Chief among these were first and last names which were deemed, sometimes inaccurately, “Jewish.” Name changes, too, were identified as suspicious. Other proxy indicators included place of origin, profession, and family affiliation. The lack of clarity on the criteria for denationalization, and the broad scope left for discretion in decision-making, enabled “bureaucratic anti-Semitism.”

Zalc’s work provides direct evidence of how state power – and sometimes state violence – functions through the routine processes of registration, categorization, and counting. This was how discriminatory decisions by administrators and judges, on the basis of predominantly unstated racial criteria, ultimately resulted in deportation and mass murder. Denationalization, Zalc shows, does not only result from explicit discrimination in nationality laws, but also from the misuse of administrative and bureaucratic processes.

We see this today, too. National registers or citizenship-verification processes requiring excessive documentation and paperwork are used to exclude and marginalize certain groups. A case in point is the mass disenfranchisement of Muslims carried out by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government in Assam – the biggest exercise of its kind in this century. An administrative act described by the government as “just a process” has pushed some 1.9 million people to the brink of statelessness, and many more will follow if this “process” is rolled out nationwide.

Racialized categories are also still being applied retroactively to exclude people, including through proxy indicators such as name, place of origin, or one’s status as a “dual national.” For example, according to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the denial and deprivation of nationality in the Dominican Republic has “disproportionately affected people of Haitian descent, who are frequently identified as such, correctly or incorrectly, based on the national origin or migratory status of their parents, skin color (especially those with a dark-colored skin), language ability, or surnames.”

And in Myanmar, where racial hierarchies in citizenship acquisition are explicit, registration and application processes have been fully weaponized against ethnic minorities and political opposition groups. Categories such as place of birth, religion, and family affiliation are used to single out Myanmar Muslims for discrimination. Meanwhile, Rohingyas using “Burmese names” on registration documents is forbidden, not explicitly in law but in the implementation of registration procedures at the township level. Local administrative processes, including restriction of movement for those within particular geographic pockets, enable the classification of ethnic and religious “others” and sustains systems of apartheid.


Siegelberg and Zalc highlight not only the potential for bureaucratic violence through the administration of citizenship, but also how this exercise of state power is put to deliberate and targeted use. The archival material examined by Zalc offers a sampling of some of the legitimizing rhetoric of the day. In Vichy France, the law on denationalization was “of primordial importance.” According to a 1941 letter by Prime Minister François Darlan, it was needed to ensure that “the morally tainted or insufficiently assimilated elements that have been allowed to infiltrate the national community be eliminated as soon as possible.”

Similarly, a recent academic symposium canvassing revocations of citizenship from the 1960s through the present (with contributions focusing on Syria, India, Nigeria, and Myanmar) identified a common thread: “those targeted for exclusion are reimagined and branded as ‘aliens’ or even ‘infiltrators,’ who the state can and must uncover.”

Zalc warns that the inherent “malleability of the notion of national interest” can easily be used to legitimize “discretionary power as being exercised in the name of the higher interests of the state.” This has become a live issue again today. The revocation of nationality is enjoying something of a renaissance even in some Western democracies, where it is framed as a counterterrorism measure. As the UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism Tendayi Achiume noted in a 2018 report to the General Assembly:

“States all over the world continue to use national security and counterterrorism justifications to strip members of their national populations of citizenship […] which in practice [has] a disproportionate effect on marginalized racial, national, and religious groups.”


When stateless people appealed to the League of Nations for assistance in the years following WWI, the world’s first global-governance body received so many letters that it was forced to acknowledge the issue, and to consider whether and how it could take up the refugees’ cause. But, as Siegelberg shows, the response was muted. Firm in their resolve to protect the legitimacy of states and the international state system, legal experts at the League shied away from “the messier world of politics.” They preferred to situate “the problem of statelessness within the domain of the conflict of laws and avoided addressing it as a wider international or humanitarian crisis resulting from mass denationalization or exclusionary national legislation.”

Then came the post-WWII system, which renewed the ambition to use international law to insulate the modern world against mass atrocities, statelessness, and human-rights abuses, but has proved insufficiently robust. States have maintained and adapted their powers to exclude and denationalize their own people.

This is evident even in countries that harbor no doubts about their status as liberal democracies. In 2019, the United Kingdom’s then-Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, summarily revoked the citizenship of Shamima Begum, a teenage girl who had run away from home to become the bride of an Islamic State fighter. (Since this decision had clear political motives and was taken without any judicial proceedings, a court of appeal ruled in July 2020 that Begum should be allowed to return to the UK to fight the decision, but this ruling was overturned by the UK Supreme Court.)

Siegelberg probes the sources of the current international system’s weaknesses, such as the relationship between human-rights frameworks and sovereignty. In recent decades, important strides have been made in reframing statelessness as a human-rights issue, rather than as merely a matter of conflicting laws. Solutions have shifted from a focus on technical legal assistance (which tiptoes around the elephant in the room – state power) to approaches that challenge discrimination and states’ exclusionary powers directly.

And yet, the international system still renders us powerless to temper the discretionary power of states to choose their own membership. There is no reliable, effective check against authoritarian states that set out to disenfranchise sections of their national communities.

The contemporary drivers of statelessness are eerily reminiscent of the League of Nations era. Ethno-nationalism, security-related anxiety, and economic scapegoating are all contributing to processes of “Othering” that, in the extreme, leave individuals or entire communities without citizenship. And, as was true of the post-WWI period, we have very few effective remedies to protect stateless people.

At the same time, statelessness remains a key causal factor in human-rights abuses. The international community has come under scrutiny for failing to protect Myanmar’s Rohingyas from mass atrocities. But the writing there had been on the wall since the enactment of the country’s 1982 citizenship law, which stripped them of their rights.

Willful ignorance of the problem of statelessness has provided fertile ground for official abuses historically. Today, we must not look away as xenophobia is institutionalized in citizenship laws and bureaucracies. We must put aside fears of the “messier world of politics” and call states to account for their exclusions – before it is too late for the excluded.

Source: The Statelessness Pandemic by Laura van Waas & Natalie Brinham

Sajid Javid’s decision to strip Shamima Begum of her citizenship questioned by one of UK’s most senior judges

On the statelessness aspect:

One of Britain’s most senior judges has called into question Sajid Javid’s decision to strip Isil bride Shamima Begum of her British citizenship.

Jonathan Sumption, who retired as a justice of the Supreme Court in December, indicated that the Home Secretary may have breached international law by effectively making Ms Begum stateless.

Mr Javid claimed that Begum, 19, whose parents came to the UK from Bangladesh, was a Bangladeshi citizen under that country’s law even though she had never been to Bangladesh.

This meant he could remove her British citizenship without making her stateless.

Speaking on the BBC’s Reith Lecture today, however, Lord Sumption said: “I am frankly surprised at the suggestion that she can be regarded as the citizen of a country with which she has never had anything to do but that is the Government’s position and I have no doubt it will be tested in the courts in due course.”

The Bangladesh Government has rejected the British claim that she is a Bangladesh citizen and said it would refuse to accept her, although its nationality laws do include a right of “citizenship by descent” to anyone who is born to a Bangladeshi parent.

This right only lapses when a person reaches the age of 21.

Lawyers for Begum, who fled London to join Isil in Syria and married an Isis fighter with whom she had three babies, all of whom died, are however appealing the Home Secretary’s decision.

Asked if the removal of citizenship also meant a person lost their standing under human rights, Lord Sumption said: “What they lose is their citizenship. That doesn’t necessarily deprive them of their standing when it comes to human rights.

“I have no problem with the notion of depriving people of their citizenship who have gone abroad to fight in foreign wars save this.

“It’s an established principle of international law that you cannot deprive somebody of his or her citizenship if the result would be to render them stateless.

“And whatever they may have done in Syria or anywhere else, that rule has always been applied and will no doubt be applied in this case.”

Source: Sajid Javid’s decision to strip Shamima Begum of her citizenship questioned by one of UK’s most senior judges

Australia: Life in limbo: the Manus babies who face a stateless future

Ongoing issue:

The children of Manus Island refugees and local women are being denied birth certificates, according to their families, potentially leaving up to 39 of them stateless.

A number of refugee men detained in the Australian-run Manus Island regional processing centre and Papua New Guinean women started relationships as early as 2015, with some children born shortly after. The regional processing centre was shut down in 2017 but at least 750 refugee and asylum seeker men remain in the country, with 580 of those on Manus Island, according to UN high commissioner for refugees estimates from July.

“I just want a marriage certificate for my wife and I, birth certificates for our two babies, citizenship and an area where we can live,” Haroon Rashid, a 27-year-old Rohingyan refugee, says.

Rashid fled Myanmar because of ethnic cleansing by government forces and arrived in PNG in 2013. The following year he was found to be a refugee and married a 22-year-old Manusian woman, Molly Noan.

The couple says provincial authorities have refused to issue birth certificates for their two-year-old son, Mohammed, and 17-month-old daughter, Almeera.

In 2016, after their eldest child was born, they asked the Manus Island provincial administrator for documents but were told to get confirmation from the PNG Immigration and Citizenship Authority.

But the authority told the couple it was not its responsibility and referred the matter back to the Manus Island provincial government.

Rashid and Noan have given up trying to get these documents owing to what they say are continual delays and refusals. “Our marriage and life is aimless and our destiny is uncertain without him being a citizen,” Noan says.

The future remains unknown for these refugee and asylum seeker men without PNG citizenship, while others face a long wait for resettlement in third countries. Now their children face a risk of statelessness too, as they lack birth certificates to prove they were born and registered in PNG.

Experts warn that the denial of birth certificates violates the children’s international legal right to be registered immediately after birth.

“Denial of birth certificates is the first step to statelessness,” says Prof Hélène Lambert, an expert in international refugee law at the University of Wollongong.

She warns that the children could become exposed to further human rights violations that flow on from a lack of proper documentation: “This could result in a whole range of social, economic, civil and political rights being denied.”


“Lack of birth registration can create a risk of statelessness, which is heightened in certain circumstances where a child is born to migrant or refugee parents, or belongs to a minority community that struggles to have its ties to the state recognised,” she says.


The Australian government has refused to confirm reports that the children of refugee men and local woman have been denied birth certificates. “This is a matter for the government of PNG,” a spokesperson for Australia’s Department of Home Affairs said in a one-sentence statement.

Source: Life in limbo: the Manus babies who face a stateless future

Civil genocide: Why threats to citizenship must not be ignored

While the term genocide should not be invoked here, the fundamental point regarding citizenship rights being under threat in a number of countries is correct:

It’s hard to imagine that something as integral to our identity as our nationality could be taken from us at the stroke of a legislator’s pen or the bang of a judge’s gavelFive years ago today, families across the Dominican Republic woke up to the news that they had lost their citizenship overnight. On 23 September 2013, the country’s Constitutional Court passed a ruling that stripped nationality from tens of thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent. Long-standing stigma and discrimination against this population had devolved into their complete exclusion from the political community. It has been described as a “civil genocide”.

It’s hard to imagine that something as integral to our identity as our nationality could be taken from us at the stroke of a legislator’s pen or the bang of a judge’s gavel. Yet history is littered with examples. Russian exiles under the Soviet laws of the 1920s, Jews under the Reich citizenship laws enacted by Nazi Germany in the 1930-40s, Kurds in Syria under the “Arabisation” policy of the 1960s, Rohingya in Myanmar after the passing of an ethnicity-based citizenship law in the 1980s, and the list continues. Today, there are an estimated 15 million stateless people in the world – individuals and communities who are not recognized as citizens by any country.

Coming just as the international community was increasing its efforts to address statelessness, the Dominican Constitutional Court decision drew significant attention. Rosa, a lawyer and activist for the rights of Dominicans of Haitian Descent, recalls how “this day gave us the evidence of something that for years we had already felt, but that many disbelieved – the political games of some, the hate and discrimination of others, was proven.”

Five years on however, the problems endure. As Rosa explains, “the majority of those affected by the ruling remain stateless – some are waiting for their documents to be “returned” to them, while others have been forced as “foreigners” into an undefined naturalisation process”. Sadly, this is not unexpected. If there’s one thing that history makes very clear, it is that once you are cast out, it is a tremendous struggle to make your way back in. And those who are made stateless are almost always condemned to pass that on to their children, perpetuating exclusion for generations to come.

For those of us working to protect the right to a nationality, the five-year anniversary of the Dominican ruling is significant – not only for what it says about how readily the situation in that country has become entrenched, but because it is worryingly emblematic of a new generation of global threats to citizenship. Our work today is no longer just about finding ways to “correct” mistakes made in the past and promote inclusion for existing stateless communities. More and more, it is about trying to prevent what could perhaps be described as “citizenship creep”: newly emerging situations around the world where a long-standing claim to nationality is called into question. People who were once sure of their status as citizens are increasingly treated as suspect, included in a narrative about outsiders, asked to provide ever-more thorough proof of belonging and finding themselves teetering on the edge of the political community, with a very real risk of being removed altogether.

A pensioner caught up in the “Windrush” situation in the UK who needs cancer treatment is asked to produce documents issued more than half a century ago before he will be assisted under the National Health Service… A Hispanic man in Texas, USA, who tries to renew his passport is turned away until he can produce further proof of her birth in the country because the authenticity of his birth certificate is suddenly being questioned… Families in Assam, India, who are desperately hunting for evidence to demonstrate that they were present in the country before 1971 in order to get their names onto the new National Register of Citizens – with 4 million people at risk of losing their citizenship by the year’s end…

We follow these and other situations of “citizenship creep” with a dire sense of foreboding. How can we arrest progress down the slippery slope of alienation and ultimately dehumanisation that can, at its worst, open the door to unimaginable horrors, as it has for the stateless Rohingya in Myanmar?

Looking back to 23 September 2013, Rosa says “this day, they buried us alive: it (was) … turned us into stateless persons in our country, the ultimate form of rejection.” As ever more cracks become visible in citizenship around the world, we must pay close attention. As with so many things in life, when it comes to nationality, you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.

Source: Civil genocide: Why threats to citizenship must not be ignored

A little girl’s right to an identity number exposes the cracks in Cuba and South Africa’s citizenship laws — Quartz

Interesting example of the statelessness and its impact:

A little girl’s desire to go to school exposed the cracks of citizenship laws in Cuba and South Africa. The girl, now 8, was deemed stateless until a court ordered the South African government to grant her citizenship this week. Her Cuban parents have been fighting for her rights for most of the child’s life.

On Sept. 6, the Supreme Court of Appeal upheld a lower court’s judgement that the girl should be recognized as a South African citizen, her lawyers said in a statement. The ruling also ordered the ministry of home affairs to draw up regulations to allow other stateless children the chance to apply for citizenship.

Without citizenship and an identity number, she could not graduate, go to university, get married, or even have her death registered. Citizenship isn’t only a matter of national pride, but access to many state institutions and benefits in a world where international bordersstill hold much power.

“Daniela’s case is an example of how a child can fall through the cracks of nationality laws and citizenship provisions,” said Jacob van Garderen, director of Lawyers for Human Rights.

South Africa’s Department of Home Affairs argued that the child could be granted permanent residence and become a naturalized citizen, according to documents filed to the court. They also said the judge violated the separation of state and judiciary when he ordered for new regulations. Still, despite launching the appeal and a two-year battle between courts, the government dropped the case at the last minute.

Daniela’s lawyers argued that permanent residence would not equate to citizenship, and that the child would always be a foreigner in the country she was born in. Further, the process of obtaining permanent residence could take between five and ten years.

Daniela was born in Cape Town in 2008. She was issued a birth certificate without an identity number because her parents were foreigners. Kenia Maria Rodriguez Garcia simply assumed her daughter was Cuban. The Cuban Embassy in South Africa, however, refused to grant Daniela citizenship on the basis that her mother’s absence from the island nation made her a “permanent emigrant,” thus excluding her child from citizenship rights.

Garcia came to South Africa in 2005 as an engineer participating in a bilateral treaty. She is now a permanent resident in South Africa, but still found that her child’s rights were limited. Garcia says she hated exposing her daughter to public scrutiny, but is grateful that other parents will be spared the ordeal.

Source: A little girl’s right to an identity number exposes the cracks in Cuba and South Africa’s citizenship laws — Quartz

‘Stateless’ Ottawa-born man loses bid for citizenship

Latest update on the Budlakoti case.

In the end, keeping him in limbo rather than acknowledging his statelessness and regularizing his status, while reinforcing the overall Government messaging on fraud, is likely to be more costly, in terms of ongoing legal appeals and that he cannot work:

Budlakoti had no idea he wasn’t an official Canadian citizen until May 2010 when he ran afoul of the law. He was sentenced to three years in prison for weapons and cocaine trafficking, and ordered deported in December 2011 based on what federal officials deemed his “serious criminality.”

But India rejected him. Indian officials said Budlakoti is not a citizen and have refused Canada’s request to issue him travel documents.

It means that Budlakoti continues to live under the restrictive terms of a federal deportation order that can’t be enforced. He must report every month to the Canada Border Services Agency and live with his family. His other family members, including his parents, are all Canadian citizens.

For his part, Budlakoti contends he is effectively stateless: living in a legal limbo without health care, social services or employment opportunities.

‘Stateless’ Ottawa-born man loses bid for citizenship | Ottawa Citizen.

‘I can’t be stateless’: Born-in-Canada criminal fighting deportation after Ottawa decides citizenship not valid

Interesting case of Deepan Budlakoti, born, raised and lived in Canada but to parents with diplomatic status but who has lived all his life in Canada:

Mr. Budlakoti is being removed from Canada for ‘serious criminality.’ He served significant jail time [three years] for trafficking both weapons and drugs. Even though Mr. Budlakoti was born in Canada, he is not a citizen due to the 1977 Citizenship Act which amended the rule to exclude all children of foreign-born diplomats born in Canada from Canadian citizenship unless one of the parents was a Canadian citizen or permanent resident. No application for citizenship has ever been made by him or on his behalf.”

Canada is a signatory to a 1961 international convention that imposes a duty to reduce statelessness.

Asking a court to declare Mr. Budlakoti’s citizenship “is an exceptional remedy because this is an exceptional case,” Mr. Hameed said. “It’s exceptional because Deepan was born in Canada, lived his entire life in Canada, and was assured on multiple occasions by the government of Canada that he was a Canadian citizen. … If there was an issue or a problem, the onus was clearly on the Canadian government to have done its due diligence, to determine whether or not there’s some exception to the rule or whether they have their records straight.”

To argue today, more than two decades later, that Canada made a mistake by issuing the passports is “very prejudicial and unfair,” said Mr. Hameed. “Now, with a finding of criminal inadmissibility, it basically bars him from taking the normal steps that he would have taken, or could have taken, to become a citizen earlier on.”

‘I can’t be stateless’: Born-in-Canada criminal fighting deportation after Ottawa decides citizenship not valid

UK Immigration Bill: UK terror suspects could be stripped of their citizenship

Interesting that the UK revokes citizenship even when this would leave someone stateless, contrary to the UN Conventions on statelessness. Will be interesting to see if Canada (and Australia) follow suit with respect to statelessness, as well as giving the Minister discretion with limited due process.

Immigration bill: UK terror suspects could be stripped of their citizenship – UK Politics – UK – The Independent.