| Emma Batha |
LONDON (Reuters) – Nobel Peace Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie backed an ambitious global campaign on Tuesday to end the plight of at least 10 million stateless people with no country to call home.
A child is born stateless every 10 minutes, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said as it kicked off the “I Belong” campaign.
With no nationality they will grow up to be some of the most invisible and deprived people on the planet.
“Statelessness makes people feel like their very existence is a crime,” UNHCR head António Guterres said.
“We have a historic opportunity to end the scourge of statelessness within 10 years, and give back hope to millions of people.”
Stateless people are denied the rights and benefits most people take for granted. These “legal ghosts” often live in destitution and are at high risk of detention and exploitation, including slavery.
Guterres, Jolie and Tutu are among a host of opinion leaders and celebrities who have signed an open letter calling for “10 million signatures to change 10 million lives”.
Others who have signed include Iranian Nobel Peace Laureate Shirin Ebadi, opera singer Barbara Hendricks, South African musician Hugh Masekela, Afghan-born novelist Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner, and model Alek Wek.
“Statelessness can mean a life without education, without medical care, or legal employment … a life without the ability to move freely, without prospects, or hope. “Statelessness is inhumane,” the letter says. “We believe it’s time to end this injustice.”
Statelessness exacerbates poverty, creates social tensions, breaks up families and can even fuel conflict.
People end up stateless for a host of reasons. Some fall through the cracks when countries break up and new ones are created. Others are stateless due to ethnic or religious discrimination or because of laws in 27 countries which prevent women passing their nationality to their children.
The largest stateless population is in Myanmar where more than one million ethnic Rohingya are refused nationality. Other countries with high numbers of stateless people include Ivory Coast, Thailand, Nepal, Latvia and Dominican Republic.
“Without a nationality you are no better than a wild animal, wandering from place to place,” said Maryam Draogo, who recently acquired Ivorian citizenship. “You’re nobody, you belong nowhere.”
The UN has warned that the conflict in Syria could give rise to a new stateless population.
Over 50,000 babies have been born to Syrian refugee women who have fled to neighbouring countries.