Refugees Lack Rights in Any Country

November 18, 2011

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Citizens of Nowhere
By Amanda Wilson
WASHINGTON, Oct 25, 2011 (IPS) – When Mona Kareem, a member of the Bidoun population of Kuwait, was 11 years old, a neighbor Kuwaiti woman asked her where she was from. When Kareem answered, "I am from Bidoun," the woman laughed at her. "There is no country called Bidoun. There is no Bidoun."

That was the moment, Kareem said, when she came to the harsh realization that being Bidoun and being Kuwaiti were not the same thing.

Kareem shared her story Tuesday at a conference on statelessness and gender discrimination organized by Refugees International (RI) at the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP). It was, she said, the first time anyone from Kuwait’s Bidoun community had ever shared their story in the U.S.

Estimated to be about 100,000, the Bidoun, which means "without" in Arabic, live their lives without any nationality in Kuwait and other states. Although they are culturally and linguistically no different from Kuwaiti citizens, Bidoun are treated as "illegal residents" there, RI reports.

Their stateless status blocks them from access to the privileges and rights Kuwaiti citizens enjoy such as drivers’ licenses and birth, death, marriage, and divorce certificates.

At the conference, international human rights advocates urged countries around the world to take action on issues of statelessness, a legally invisible status that United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Antonia Guterres, said Tuesday is "probably the most forgotten global human rights problem in today’s international agenda".

According to RI, about 12 million people worldwide lack effective citizenship, a status that deprives them of rights such as legal representation, identity documents, and access to public schools. And in many countries, discrimination against women in nationality laws aggravate or actively create statelessness.

For example, Kuwaiti women, unless they are divorced or widowed, cannot pass on their citizenship to their children, according to RI. In this way, many children of Bidoun fathers inherit their fathers’ statelessness.

Forty nations in the world have explicit gender discrimination in their laws, and 30 nations have nationality laws in which mothers are not able to convey their nationality to children when they are married to someone stateless or of a different nationality.

These laws create situations in which "statelessness is actively being created because mothers cannot pass their nationality," Guterres said. He urged the 30 countries to amend their nationality laws to allow "all of the world’s mothers to convey their nationality to their children in the same way as fathers".

Michel Gabaudan, president of RI, emphasized the global nature of statelessness and pointed to the Roma people of Europe and Southern Sudanese currently living in Khartoum. Southern Sudanese in Khartoum are "at risk of becoming stateless if the state does not adopt a measure to establish citizenship", Gabaudan said.

Sonia Pierre, a Dominican activist of Haitian decent, also shared her story Tuesday. Speaking in Spanish through an interpreter, she told stories of people of Haitian descent in the Dominican Republic who have, since 2010, been retroactively stripped of their Dominican citizenship. RI is urging the Dominican Republic to stop denationalizing Dominicans of Haitian descent.

Read more HERE


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