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There are 12 million stateless people in the world. Who are they?
Without a country to belong to, many of these people lack some of the most fundamental rights.
- According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the world is host to 12 million people who don't officially belong to any state.
- People can become stateless through a variety of means, including racial discrimination, sexist nationality laws, voluntary choice, or bureaucratic accidents.
- Who are these millions of stateless individuals? What is life like for them? Can their situation be solved?
You can live in a country for your entire life, but due to some circumstance of your birth or political machinations outside of your control, you can be denied an education, healthcare, employment, legal rights, any kind of identification, and many other things that your peers may have access to. Statelessness may live entirely in the realm of abstract bureaucracy, but it can have some very real and concrete impacts on your life.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reports that roughly 12 million people across the globe do not belong to any state. Some gave up their statehood willingly, others had it taken away from them by a vindictive government, and others just never had statehood in the first place.
How do people become stateless?
Often, statelessness arises due to the quirks of international law. For instance, many states offer citizenship based on either jus soli — where individuals born in a given nation acquire that nationality — jus sanguinis — where citizenship is inherited from one's parents — or some combination of the two. When these systems have cracks, sometimes the result can be statelessness.
For instance, Canada offers citizenship through jus sanguinis, but only for one generation. Rachel Chandler's father had been born in Libya but was a Canadian citizen due to Canadian nationality laws. Chandler was born in China to a Chinese mother, but she was still ineligible for citizenship under Chinese law. As a second-generation, foreign-born Canadian, she was also ineligible for Canadian citizenship, and thus became stateless.
Another major source of statelessness is due to sexism. Twenty-five states also don't permit mothers to pass on their nationality in the same way that fathers can, as is the case in Iran, Qatar, and Kuwait. When the father is stateless himself, unmarried to the mother, or has died, among other reasons, offspring in these countries suddenly find themselves without a nation.
Others renounce their statehood or lose their statehood when their nation dissolves — as was the case for many native Russian Soviet citizens living in Estonia and Latvia, who suddenly became stateless when the Soviet Union dissolved.
The main source of statelessness, however, arises due to states discriminating against a particular group. The Syrian government, for example, stripped hundreds of thousands of Kurds of their statehood in a 1962 census, claiming that the Kurds had immigrated illegally, and sparking considerable international criticism. Today, the Myanmar government is perhaps the biggest contributor to the modern stateless population with their refusal to grant the Rohingya people citizenship. The Rohingya have been present in Myanmar since the 8th century, but the state only offers citizenship to 135 legally recognized ethnic groups, of which the Rohingya do not belong. Instead, Myanmar appears to intend to expel its Rohingya population.
Notable examples of statelessness
Mehran Karimi Nasseri's living quarters in Charles de Gaulle airport. Photo credit: Christophe Calais / Corbis via Getty Images
Albert Einstein had a very interesting political history, bouncing from German to Swiss back to German to U.S. citizenship. However, in between the years in which he was a German and Swiss citizen, Einstein was stateless for five years. Though he was born in the German Kingdom of Württemburg, Einstein renounced his citizenship in order to avoid military service in 1896. Five years later, he would be granted Swiss citizenship.
Mehran Karimi Nasseri was not so lucky. He has been allegedly stateless since 1977, and 18 of those years he spent living in Charles de Gaulle airport. Nasseri claims to have been expelled from Iran, his home country, for protesting the Shah. He decided to move to Britain, but the travel documents that listed him as a refugee — which provided him a legal basis to seek citizenship in Europe — were stolen during a layover in France. Nasseri continued onto Britain regardless and was returned to France by British authorities. French officials intended to deport him but could not; Nasseri had no country of origin to be deported to.
A French court concluded that Nasseri had entered the country legally, but he could not leave the airport. It was only until 2006 that Nasseri left Charles de Gaulle due to an unknown illness requiring his hospitalization. The 2004 film The Terminal used Nasseri's story for inspiration.
Garry Davis voluntarily renounced his U.S. citizenship in 1948, partially due to his brother's death in World War II and his own participation in the war as a B-17 bomber. Davis interpreted Article 13(2) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as allowing him the rights of a world citizen. In his later years, he would start the World Service Authority, a non-profit with the goal of promoting world citizenship and a world government. He also developed world passports, which he allegedly used to gain entry into some countries (though he was detained many times).
Though these examples highlight some of the more whimsical ways one can lose their statehood, most stateless persons suffer a significant amount of abuse because of their lack of statehood. The UNHCR has stated its goal to end statelessness by 2024 by a variety of actions, among them:
- encouraging countries to change problematic laws (such as those 25 countries with gendered nationality laws),
- pushing discriminatory states toward reform through international pressure, and
- improving the process by which states dissolve or separate.
It's a lofty goal, but one can't help but to imagine that the stateless will always be with us.
Scientists are using bioelectronic medicine to treat inflammatory diseases, an approach that capitalizes on the ancient "hardwiring" of the nervous system.
- Bioelectronic medicine is an emerging field that focuses on manipulating the nervous system to treat diseases.
- Clinical studies show that using electronic devices to stimulate the vagus nerve is effective at treating inflammatory diseases like rheumatoid arthritis.
- Although it's not yet approved by the US Food and Drug Administration, vagus nerve stimulation may also prove effective at treating other diseases like cancer, diabetes and depression.
The nervous system’s ancient reflexes<p>You accidentally place your hand on a hot stove. Almost instantaneously, your hand withdraws.</p><p>What triggered your hand to move? The answer is <em>not</em> that you consciously decided the stove was hot and you should move your hand. Rather, it was a reflex: Skin receptors on your hand sent nerve impulses to the spinal cord, which ultimately sent back motor neurons that caused your hand to move away. This all occurred before your "conscious brain" realized what happened.</p><p>Similarly, the nervous system has reflexes that protect individual cells in the body.</p><p>"The nervous system evolved because we need to respond to stimuli in the environment," said Dr. Tracey. "Neural signals don't come from the brain down first. Instead, when something happens in the environment, our peripheral nervous system senses it and sends a signal to the central nervous system, which comprises the brain and spinal cord. And then the nervous system responds to correct the problem."</p><p>So, what if scientists could "hack" into the nervous system, manipulating the electrical activity in the nervous system to control molecular processes and produce desirable outcomes? That's the chief goal of bioelectronic medicine.</p><p>"There are billions of neurons in the body that interact with almost every cell in the body, and at each of those nerve endings, molecular signals control molecular mechanisms that can be defined and mapped, and potentially put under control," Dr. Tracey said in a <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AJH9KsMKi5M" target="_blank">TED Talk</a>.</p><p>"Many of these mechanisms are also involved in important diseases, like cancer, Alzheimer's, diabetes, hypertension and shock. It's very plausible that finding neural signals to control those mechanisms will hold promises for devices replacing some of today's medication for those diseases."</p><p>How can scientists hack the nervous system? For years, researchers in the field of bioelectronic medicine have zeroed in on the longest cranial nerve in the body: the vagus nerve.</p>
The vagus nerve<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTYyOTM5OC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NTIwNzk0NX0.UCy-3UNpomb3DQZMhyOw_SQG4ThwACXW_rMnc9mLAe8/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C0%2C0%2C0&height=700" id="09add" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="f38dbfbbfe470ad85a3b023dd5083557" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1245" data-height="700" />
Electrical signals, seen here in a synapse, travel along the vagus nerve to trigger an inflammatory response.
Credit: Adobe Stock via solvod<p>The vagus nerve ("vagus" meaning "wandering" in Latin) comprises two nerve branches that stretch from the brainstem down to the chest and abdomen, where nerve fibers connect to organs. Electrical signals constantly travel up and down the vagus nerve, facilitating communication between the brain and other parts of the body.</p><p>One aspect of this back-and-forth communication is inflammation. When the immune system detects injury or attack, it automatically triggers an inflammatory response, which helps heal injuries and fend off invaders. But when not deployed properly, inflammation can become excessive, exacerbating the original problem and potentially contributing to diseases.</p><p>In 2002, Dr. Tracey and his colleagues discovered that the nervous system plays a key role in monitoring and modifying inflammation. This occurs through a process called the <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/nature01321" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">inflammatory reflex</a>. In simple terms, it works like this: When the nervous system detects inflammatory stimuli, it reflexively (and subconsciously) deploys electrical signals through the vagus nerve that trigger anti-inflammatory molecular processes.</p><p>In rodent experiments, Dr. Tracey and his colleagues observed that electrical signals traveling through the vagus nerve control TNF, a protein that, in excess, causes inflammation. These electrical signals travel through the vagus nerve to the spleen. There, electrical signals are converted to chemical signals, triggering a molecular process that ultimately makes TNF, which exacerbates conditions like rheumatoid arthritis.</p><p>The incredible chain reaction of the inflammatory reflex was observed by Dr. Tracey and his colleagues in greater detail through rodent experiments. When inflammatory stimuli are detected, the nervous system sends electrical signals that travel through the vagus nerve to the spleen. There, the electrical signals are converted to chemical signals, which trigger the spleen to create a white blood cell called a T cell, which then creates a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine. The acetylcholine interacts with macrophages, which are a specific type of white blood cell that creates TNF, a protein that, in excess, causes inflammation. At that point, the acetylcholine triggers the macrophages to stop overproducing TNF – or inflammation.</p><p>Experiments showed that when a specific part of the body is inflamed, specific fibers within the vagus nerve start firing. Dr. Tracey and his colleagues were able to map these relationships. More importantly, they were able to stimulate specific parts of the vagus nerve to "shut off" inflammation.</p><p>What's more, clinical trials show that vagus nerve stimulation not only "shuts off" inflammation, but also triggers the production of cells that promote healing.</p><p>"In animal experiments, we understand how this works," Dr. Tracey said. "And now we have clinical trials showing that the human response is what's predicted by the lab experiments. Many scientific thresholds have been crossed in the clinic and the lab. We're literally at the point of regulatory steps and stages, and then marketing and distribution before this idea takes off."<br></p>
The future of bioelectronic medicine<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTYxMDYxMy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNjQwOTExNH0.uBY1TnEs_kv9Dal7zmA_i9L7T0wnIuf9gGtdRXcNNxo/img.jpg?width=980" id="8b5b2" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c005e615e5f23c2817483862354d2cc4" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="2000" data-height="1125" />
Vagus nerve stimulation can already treat Crohn's disease and other inflammatory diseases. In the future, it may also be used to treat cancer, diabetes, and depression.
Credit: Adobe Stock via Maridav<p>Vagus nerve stimulation is currently awaiting approval by the US Food and Drug Administration, but so far, it's proven safe and effective in clinical trials on humans. Dr. Tracey said vagus nerve stimulation could become a common treatment for a wide range of diseases, including cancer, Alzheimer's, diabetes, hypertension, shock, depression and diabetes.</p><p>"To the extent that inflammation is the problem in the disease, then stopping inflammation or suppressing the inflammation with vagus nerve stimulation or bioelectronic approaches will be beneficial and therapeutic," he said.</p><p>Receiving vagus nerve stimulation would require having an electronic device, about the size of lima bean, surgically implanted in your neck during a 30-minute procedure. A couple of weeks later, you'd visit, say, your rheumatologist, who would activate the device and determine the right dosage. The stimulation would take a few minutes each day, and it'd likely be unnoticeable.</p><p>But the most revolutionary aspect of bioelectronic medicine, according to Dr. Tracey, is that approaches like vagus nerve stimulation wouldn't come with harmful and potentially deadly side effects, as many pharmaceutical drugs currently do.</p><p>"A device on a nerve is not going to have systemic side effects on the body like taking a steroid does," Dr. Tracey said. "It's a powerful concept that, frankly, scientists are quite accepting of—it's actually quite amazing. But the idea of adopting this into practice is going to take another 10 or 20 years, because it's hard for physicians, who've spent their lives writing prescriptions for pills or injections, that a computer chip can replace the drug."</p><p>But patients could also play a role in advancing bioelectronic medicine.</p><p>"There's a huge demand in this patient cohort for something better than they're taking now," Dr. Tracey said. "Patients don't want to take a drug with a black-box warning, costs $100,000 a year and works half the time."</p><p>Michael Dowling, president and CEO of Northwell Health, elaborated:</p><p>"Why would patients pursue a drug regimen when they could opt for a few electronic pulses? Is it possible that treatments like this, pulses through electronic devices, could replace some drugs in the coming years as preferred treatments? Tracey believes it is, and that is perhaps why the pharmaceutical industry closely follows his work."</p><p>Over the long term, bioelectronic approaches are unlikely to completely replace pharmaceutical drugs, but they could replace many, or at least be used as supplemental treatments.</p><p>Dr. Tracey is optimistic about the future of the field.</p><p>"It's going to spawn a huge new industry that will rival the pharmaceutical industry in the next 50 years," he said. "This is no longer just a startup industry. [...] It's going to be very interesting to see the explosive growth that's going to occur."</p>
The first rule of Vulture Club: stay out of Portugal.
So you're a vulture, riding the thermals that rise up over Iberia. Your way of life is ancient, ruled by needs and instincts that are way older than the human civilization that has overtaken the peninsula below, and the entire planet.
"The Expanse" is the best vision I've ever seen of a space-faring future that may be just a few generations away.
- Want three reasons why that headline is justified? Characters and acting, universe building, and science.
- For those who don't know, "The Expanse" is a series that's run on SyFy and Amazon Prime set about 200 years in the future in a mostly settled solar system with three waring factions: Earth, Mars, and Belters.
- No other show I know of manages to use real science so adeptly in the service of its story and its grand universe building.
Credit: "The Expanse" / Syfy<p>Now, I get it if you don't agree with me. I love "Star Trek" and I thought "Battlestar Galactica" (the new one) was amazing and I do adore "The Mandalorian". They are all fun and important and worth watching and thinking about. And maybe you love them more than anything else. But when you sum up the acting, the universe building, and the use of real science where it matters, I think nothing can beat "The Expanse". And with a <a href="https://www.rottentomatoes.com/tv/the_expanse" target="_blank">Rotten Tomato</a> average rating of 93%, I'm clearly not the only one who feels this way.</p><p>Best.</p><p>Show.</p><p>Ever. </p>
Contrary to what some might think, the brain is a very plastic organ.
As with many other physicians, recommending physical activity to patients was just a doctor chore for me – until a few years ago. That was because I myself was not very active.