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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.
What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.
- Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
- That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
- We look at incredible writings from the last 200 years that illustrate the push for human dignity in regards to slavery, equality, communism, free speech and education.
The inherent worth of all human beings<p>Human dignity is the inherent worth of each individual human being. Recognizing human dignity means respecting human beings' special value—value that sets us apart from other animals; value that is intrinsic and cannot be lost.</p> <p>Liberalism—the broad political philosophy that organizes society around liberty, justice, and equality—is rooted in the idea of human dignity. Liberalism assumes each of our lives, plans, and preferences have some unimpeachable value, not because of any objective evaluation or contribution to a greater good, but simply because they belong to a human being. We are human, and therefore deserving of a baseline level of respect. </p> <p>Because so many of us take human dignity for granted—just a fact of our humanness—it's usually only when someone's dignity is ignored or violated that we feel compelled to talk about it. </p> <p>But human dignity means more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose—a freedom that can be hampered by restrictive social institutions or the tyranny of the majority. The liberal ideal of the good society is not just peaceful but also pluralistic: It is a society in which we respect others' right to think and live differently than we do.</p>
From the 19th century to today<p>With <a href="https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?year_start=1800&year_end=2019&content=human+dignity&corpus=26&smoothing=3&direct_url=t1%3B%2Chuman%20dignity%3B%2Cc0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Google Books Ngram Viewer</a>, we can chart mentions of human dignity from 1800-2019.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0ODU0My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTUwMzE4MX0.bu0D_0uQuyNLyJjfRESNhu7twkJ5nxu8pQtfa1w3hZs/img.png?width=980" id="7ef38" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9974c7bef3812fcb36858f325889e3c6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, southern France, on November 6, 1979.
Credit: Ralph Gatti/AFP via Getty Images
The future of dignity<p>Around the world, people are still working toward the full and equal recognition of human dignity. Every year, new speeches and writings help us understand what dignity is—not only what it looks like when dignity is violated but also what it looks like when dignity is honored. In his posthumous essay, Congressman Lewis wrote, "When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war."</p> <p>The more we talk about human dignity, the better we understand it. And the sooner we can make progress toward a shared vision of peace, freedom, and mutual respect for all. </p>
Scientists find that bursts of gamma rays may exceed the speed of light and cause time-reversibility.
- Astrophysicists propose that gamma-ray bursts may exceed the speed of light.
- The superluminal jets may also be responsible for time-reversibility.
- The finding doesn't go against Einstein's theory because this effect happens in the jet medium not a vacuum.
Jet bursting out of a blazar. Black-hole-powered galaxies called blazars are the most common sources detected by NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope.
Cosmic death beams: Understanding gamma ray bursts<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="cu2knVEk" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="c6cfd20fdf31c82cb206ade8ce21ba3f"> <div id="botr_cu2knVEk_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cu2knVEk-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/cu2knVEk-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cu2knVEk-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div>
Philosophers have been asking the question for hundreds of years. Now neuroscientists are joining the quest to find out.
- The debate over whether or not humans have free will is centuries old and ongoing. While studies have confirmed that our brains perform many tasks without conscious effort, there remains the question of how much we control and when it matters.
- According to Dr. Uri Maoz, it comes down to what your definition of free will is and to learning more about how we make decisions versus when it is ok for our brain to subconsciously control our actions and movements.
- "If we understand the interplay between conscious and unconscious," says Maoz, "it might help us realize what we can control and what we can't."
Puerto Rico's iconic telescope facilitated important scientific discoveries while inspiring young scientists and the public imagination.
- The Arecibo Observatory's main telescope collapsed on Tuesday morning.
- Although officials had been planning to demolish the telescope, the accident marked an unceremonious end to a beloved astronomical tool.
- The Arecibo radio telescope has facilitated many discoveries in astronomy, including the mapping of near-Earth asteroids and the detection of exoplanets.
Bradley Rivera via twitter.com<p>In 1963, the concave dish was built into a natural sinkhole on the northern coast of Puerto Rico. The location was <a href="https://www.space.com/20984-arecibo-observatory.html" target="_blank">picked because it was near the equator,</a> providing scientists a clear view of planets passing overhead, and also of the ionosphere, which is the uniquely reactive layer of Earth's upper atmosphere where the northern lights form.</p><p>Since its construction, scientists have used the Arecibo telescope to map near-Earth asteroids, detect gravitational waves, study pulsars, detect exoplanets and <a href="https://www.seti.org/goodbye-arecibo" target="_blank">search for alien civilizations</a>, among other projects. Here's a brief look at some of the discoveries and accomplishments made using the Arecibo telescope:</p><ul><li>1964: Astronomer <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gordon_Pettengill" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Gordon Pettengill</a> discovers that Mercury's rotation period is 59 days, significantly shorter than the previous prediction of 88 days.</li><li>1974: Physicists Russell Alan Hulse and Joseph Hooton Taylor Jr. discovers the first binary pulsar, for which they won a Nobel Prize in Physics.</li><li>1974: Scientists use the telescope to transmit the "Arecibo message" to <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Globular_Cluster_in_Hercules" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">globular star cluster M13</a>. The message, when translated into image form, contains basic information about humanity and human knowledge: the numbers one to 10, a map of our solar system, an illustration of a human being, and the atomic numbers of certain elements.</li><li>1989: Scientists use the telescope to image an asteroid for the first time.</li><li>1992: Astronomers Alex Wolszczan and Dale Frail become the first to discover exoplanets.</li></ul>
The Google-owned company developed a system that can reliably predict the 3D shapes of proteins.