The inability to prove your own nationality can be a major obstacle in realizing even the most basic of human rights. For example, in many ex-Yugoslav states, all citizens of a certain age are required to hold a valid state-issued identification card which is necessary for accessing a number of social services. The application for the card requires documents that a stateless or legally invisible person is unlikely to possess, such as birth certificate and proof of citizenship. Without this card or other forms of identification, living a normal life is difficult. In Macedonia, for instance, ARKA writes that Roma without verifiable citizenship or birth certificates are denied access to “education, health services, housing, formal employment, financial services social security, justice, property rights, legal marriage, and participation in the democratic process.” And of course, without a passport, individuals are also restricted in their freedom of movement.
The problem has significance at systemic levels, as well. The lack of accurate statistics on birth rates can mean insufficient budgetary allocations for school and social welfare systems. Additionally, municipal planning policies for housing and basic amenities such as water may be skewed by a lack of official housing registrations. And when the government doesn’t have accurate information about the population, employment policies also suffer. This is a particular issue for populations who are vulnerable to employment discrimination, as Roma often are.
The repercussions also extend to democracy and public safety. Without identification, a significant portion of the population cannot vote or be elected to public office. Further, they are far more vulnerable to practices such as human trafficking and child prostitution. Without official proof of age they may also be at risk for child labor and early marriage. And more generally, without identification the government at every level cannot keep track of this population, or take precautions to ensure their safety. And, when parents are stateless, they are far more likely to pass this status down to their children, since identification is required to register birth and paternity in many cases.
So in sum, statelessness means being paralyzed- unable to access your rights and improve your life- and, like a communicable disease, you have to watch your children go through the same frustrating process without being able to help.
Photo via UNHCR.