Imagine This: You Have No Country, No Country Will Claim You

Posted by DipNote Bloggers
September 16, 2008
Rohyinga Woman

About the Authors: Samuel M. Witten serves as Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration and David J. Kramer serves as Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.

Fifteen-year-old Meesu was born in Thailand, and grew up there, but she is not a Thai citizen. Like some members of hill tribes, she is not a citizen of any country. Without citizenship, she faced travel and work restrictions in Thailand and was trafficked to Malaysia to be a sex worker. When Malaysian police busted the prostitution ring, they could not send Meesu home because she was not Thai. She languished in jail for months.

Meesu's case is sadly not unique. She is one of the world's many stateless people. The United Nations estimates that worldwide there are up to 15 million people who are unable to exercise their "right to nationality," the human right that underpins the relationship between individuals and governments.

Stateless people often say their very existence is ignored. Philosopher Hannah Arendt, who became stateless when she fled Nazi Germany and later acquired U.S. citizenship, described the right to nationality as the right to have rights, and wrote: "The loss of a community willing and able to guarantee any rights whatsoever has been the calamity which has befallen ever-increasing numbers of people."

It was the surge in the number of stateless around World War II that led the drafters of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights to include Article 15, which states that "Everyone has the right to a nationality" and should not be deprived arbitrarily of his or her nationality. Still, millions of people -- such as the Bidoon in Kuwait and the Rohingya in Burma (the young woman in the photo, above, belongs to the Rohingya ethnic group and lives along the Bangladesh-Burma border) -- remain stateless, and as a result, suffer from discrimination in access to education, employment, health care, marriage and birth registration, property rights and other abuses.

Although the problem of statelessness persists, international attention to it has drifted to the margins in recent decades. Data on statelessness is scant and seldom highlighted. We do not know, for example, whether the global number of stateless people is increasing or decreasing over time. Issues of citizenship and nationality are politically delicate and often considered sovereign matters. In some cases, governments lack the capacity to officially recognize and document all their citizens; and in other cases, statelessness legally or effectively results from systematic discrimination or gaps in citizenship laws and procedures. In the most egregious cases, governments have denationalized their citizens for political reasons.

In an effort to increase awareness about the existence of stateless people and the problems they face, the U.S. Department of State has begun to include a section on statelessness in our annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. This change is part of our effort to elevate the issue on the world human rights agenda. Published last month, the reports describe the scope of the problem in 50 countries in all regions of the world.

In addition to these country reports, the Department of State is increasing its support for stateless populations through diplomacy and humanitarian assistance. American diplomats press foreign governments to prevent and resolve situations of statelessness within their territory. We have advocated publicly for the protection of stateless persons in Congress and around the UN General Assembly.

The United States is the single largest donor to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, whose mandate includes the protection of stateless people. Last fiscal year, we provided over $363 million to UNHCR, including contributions to the agency's core budget that supported protection and assistance programs for stateless populations. We also provided $2.5 million in targeted funding to address statelessness in 2007. For example, the Department contributed $689,000 to a UNHCR program to construct or rehabilitate 10 schools and to issue temporary ID cards for 150,000 stateless Rohingya in Burma's Northern Rakhine State, which improved their access to health care and other services.

Solutions for stateless people require government action. Especially where stateless persons lack access to naturalization, and where discrimination embedded in nationality laws results in significant stateless populations, governments must rectify their laws and policies. Universal birth registration is another important step in preventing statelessness from occurring. We urge other governments and non-governmental organizations to step up their efforts on this issue.

As for Meesu, the fifteen year old trafficking victim and citizen of nowhere, she was eventually sent back to Thailand. After months of negotiation, the Thai government agreed to consider accepting, on a case by case basis, stateless people who could prove previous residence in the country. Until we all make a broader effort to reduce statelessness, however, millions of individuals will continue to be deprived of the "right to have rights."



New Mexico, USA
September 16, 2008

Eric in New Mexico writes:

@ Assist. Sec. Kramer,

I have a simple question that probably would require a pretty complex answer from various agencies of the US gov. but I hope you'll give me your thoughts and ideas as to how desirable and do-able it might be to implement.

In my state, we've got a lot of open space, and room for a lot of folks. How difficult would it be to simply offer the stateless, all 15 million of them , a place to call home?

Seems to me it would solve the problem and allow them a chance at self sufficiancy and a life. Which is totally consistant with tradional values that built this nation.

In a sense, it would be more efficiant to bring them to the aid rather than the aid to the people. Though aid alone can't resolve the core issue of legal status.

Only the willing among nations can.

Syrian P.
September 16, 2008

SNP in Syria writes:

Either what is suggested by Eric in NM., or Get the U.N. to force these rickety dickeys regimes to comply with International Laws and Humanitarian issues, kick them out of the U.N. downgrade Diplomatic relation, sanctions by international community or simply get ready of these regimes that are nothing but hindereth to human progress by force. If you can not do it, get others to do it, SNP can help. Our future as mankind and the progress that needs to be made this Century can not simply be controlled by few regimes. There is more to life and humanity future than oil contracts, DOS have forgotten the mission they are paid for. The U.N. is obviously an obsolete organization that has failed in its missions. Someone must take the lead and make the charge to resolve this tainted past of our human history. It devaluate all mankind moral standards no matter where these human rights violations occurs. It must be stopped.

New Mexico, USA
September 16, 2008

Eric in New Mexico writes:

@ SNP, (chuckle)....that's a keeper..."rickety dickey" indeed. Though we must agree to disagree on your charictarization of DoS efforts in this regard.

Been thinking how it could be managed not in lieu of ongoing DoS efforts to get countries to review status, but to augment the effort and offer a safe harbor of last resort, rather than see folks subjected to abuse and imprisoned for lack of legal status.

Way I see it, we have the capacity to house a lot of folks on mothballed US military bases initially, and get FEMA to hire as many as possible at a living wage to assist the US in disaster clean up after hurricanes, floods, etc.

I'm not suggesting a free ride for anyone, and hard work promotes self esteem in general. Giving them the chance to contribute something back for taking them in would serve everyone's interest.

I'm kind of drawing upon the old CCC program that FDR instituted during our great depression as inspiration as to how such a program might work in practicality.

I don't believe it will require radical changes in policy to implement, but it would have to pass Congressional scrutiny and legistlation.

I think I've offered a solution to that so that it would pass in a Congressional vote.

In any case, someone more knowledgable than I would have to flesh out this bare bones idea in order for it to work as envisioned.

I mean we are talking about providing at least 10 million jobs in the process, and obviously the work is there to be done, but Congress has got to fund the program, and have oversight.

It may be that a lot will eventually be given status from other countries, but America has always lead by example, and if other nations are going to take a cue from this, that would be a very good thing because absorbing 15 million is no easy task under any circumstances.

It would be impossible to integrate them in communities in any traditional aplication DoS has in place today. That many people at once would simply overwhem that process.

This is why I suggest alternative housing till individual applications for permanent refugee status can be sorted out.

Plus the fact that a lot of portable housing would have to be included in such a program, and to some extent this investment would go directly back into the American economy in the manufacture and increased jobs needed to fill the need.

Language barriers would take time to resolve, but interpretors exist within the private sector who have sucessfully immigrated to the US from the same locals.

I think it is do-able, and unless there's some huge roadblock I don't know about, it would be desirable as well.

But let's see what Mr. Kramer has to say on the matter.

United States
September 17, 2008

Zharkov in U.S.A. writes:

It is the state itself which creates the condition of "statelessness". It is the state and its employees which deny status.

Jews escaped Nazi Germany and then became "stateless" after Roosevelt refused to allow them to enter America.

Under global government, both individual statelessness and individual freedom will be eliminated.

Florida, USA
September 17, 2008

Susan in Florida writes:

This is a deeply compelling report. I did not realize that so many people in the world are stateless. It does seem as if the U.N., as well as the United States, should put more pressure on the countries where this is a huge problem which they choose to ignore. It is a humanitarian problem that rivals any of the other problems we face in the world today, including terrorism, as it probably is used by the terrorists to recruit desperate individuals to do their dirty work. Also, I would like to say how saddened I was by what happened at the U.S. Embassy in Yemen. I want to express sympathy to all who lost a friend or relative in the latest terrorist atrocity.

New Mexico, USA
September 17, 2008

Eric in New Mexico writes:

I'd like to second Susan's comments regarding the attack on the US embassy in Yemen, and offer my thanks to brave souls and condolences to the families of the policemen , civilians and first responders who lost their lives.

Tennessee, USA
September 17, 2008

Joe in Tennessee writes:

This is getting old. You keep rehashing the same line...pity, pity, pity which is an emotional state and solves nothing.

While you may think everyone in America feels they have a country....try asking all the millions displaced now by the very Government they live under. There are banking regulations which were directly violated and supported. Speculation in oil was set up by a Congressional tax loop hole in the 90s....and the list goes on. Who makes refugees to begin with? It is almost hypocritical to even post this.

Do any of you realize how many Americans now feel like refugees in their own land? How many feel as though they have been abandoned by their representation and that that representation cares more about others than their own?

Which is worse, the above or the greatest democracy on earth putting its citizens on the streets?

We are all refugees in reality, some just more than others..and very few of their own doing. Take all your money and privileges away in America, what are you? -- and there are more and more of them daily.

The Department Of State should include America on its list should it not? The DOS is not just about everyone else, without a strong America, Democracy is a peril.

I do not have to imagine it, I have seen it and how many decades has this been going on without resolove?

New Mexico, USA
September 18, 2008

Eric in New Mexico writes:

Ah, the soft bigotry of low expectation and protectionism finds a voice....

Joe, your targeting parameters are so off, you're laying fire on friendlies.

Let me buy you a clue here. You have reason to blame someone, start with your representives to Congress from Tennessee, and tell them to cut out the pork and earmarks.

USAID and DoS don't build bridges to nowhere. They stretch evey dollar approved by Congress to the max with dilligent oversight in order to save people's lives which in turn generates the respect and goodwill for America nessessary to "drain the swamp" of potential terrorist recruitment.

This is just one reason why DOD is so adament about fully funding the Dept of State in Congressional testimony.

Now let me suggest to you Joe that if it was you sitting in hut in Africa, dying of AIDS because you didn't have American supplied medicine, and your son was covered in mosqito bites and showing signs of malaria because American supplied mosqito netting never arrived, and your daughter was sold into sex slavery because she was the only available breadwinner, and that was her only hope of feed you....

And one of the friendly folks that brought 9/11 on came to you and offered to buy your daughter back and get some quinine for you son, and put some bread on your table for strapping on a suicide vest (since your dying anyway), so you could get even with the US for not sending the aid you know it could have provided in the first place....

What you gonna do then I wonder?

And you claim to be for "America First"....I find that to be patheticly hypocritical.

More's the pity, I pity you.

District Of Columbia, USA
September 20, 2008

Anna in Washington, DC writes:

Thank you for drawing attention to this issue. I did not know that there were so many individuals who could not claim their right of nationality. It has made me think about how much we still rely upon the state for our protection.

Also, I'm really impressed with the photograph. There are certain photos that one never forgets -- the well-known image of the young woman from Afghanistan on the cover of National Geographic comes to mind. For me, this is one of those photos, too.

Tennessee, USA
September 20, 2008

Joe in Tennessee writes:

QUOTE: Now let me suggest to you Joe that if it was you sitting in hut in Africa, dying of AIDS because you didn't have American supplied medicine, and your son was covered in mosquito bites and showing signs of malaria because American supplied mosquito netting never arrived, and your daughter was sold into sex slavery because she was the only available breadwinner, and that was her only hope of feed you....END QUOTE with spelling cor.

ERIC: I helped lay wire for huts in Darfur, put my life in harms way to deliver food is you who is very far off base. Everything is relative and you simply MOVED my Premise to suit a verbal attack for some unknown reason...but, Simply put:

When you were a child and you were not able to do something else your buddy was allowed to do or have, what did your father say: Oh, ok, we should too or did he say: that is their house, this is my house!

Our house is not as strong as it needs to be to continue and help as we did. It is a reality, what about that do you not understand? We can't keep printing money...that is the bottom line.

America and Americans need to come first, not last. We need to rebuild in every respect. The UN can do more, religions can do more...why America all the time?

You pound the bible: so why can't Evangelist give up a few homes and their excessive payrolls, planes, etc. and feed more people or pay taxs so the US govt. can spend more for the poor? ... An entertainment tax would suit it fine. a 1,500 suit, horses, many homes, vacations which cost tens of thousands of dollars, have their name put on the doors of Rodeo drive for the clothing they purchase for work they do not perform, get real. You want pity, let the Churches do more than cry for money from the poor in America. They cannot even work collectively because of their own greed and pride. It is easy to give away others people money is it not?

..And I know how spread out the money is and always has been. I seen first hand the lack of medical supplies and food... We cant fix everything and everyone.

You want to talk about delegation, where in the Constitution or Bill of Rights does it read:

Americans should do without Jobs, homes and food so the Government can give to other countries? WHERE IS YOUR LEGAL SUPPORT?

It was NEVER a POINT OF OUR RESPONSIBILITIES as a NATION to begin with. Who delegated the Congress to give everything away? The People?

It is a bureaucracy that was developed.

You want a simple solution: Your dealing with leaderships who would rather have weapons than food for their why not just eliminate the leaders? Why continue to drip suffrage throughout the world and try to patchwork help and aid to the point it is today?

It is humanities responsibility...but not one Nations obligation. America has always done much more than its share; but, we are in a bind now. I presume your eating well. How many meals a week do you give up and take that money saved and give to another country? Should I have to do the same thing if you do?

I would like to know where you were or are in the actual scheme of things. Are you involved since you seem so overdriven with compassion, what have you personally done?

Americas good nature is not a question -- but our foundation is. If you had limited funds, who are you going to feed first: Your child or someone you don't know or see? What is a truthful answer?

That is the reality of the situation. WE cannot keep printing money we cannot back up. Gods Trust is limited right now; if you do not believe me wait.

I do not know why your reading what you want in many post...are you a journalist?

Personalization is the last act of a poor defense.

New Mexico, USA
September 21, 2008

Eric in New Mexico writes:

@ Joe,

According to Article I of the Constitution, the Congress shall have the power to:

Originate all bills for raising revenues
Collect taxes, duties, and excise, pay debts, and provide for the common defense
Borrow money on the credit of the United States
Regulate commerce with foreign nations and among states
Establish a uniform rule of naturalization
Establish a uniform rule of bankruptcy
Coin money
Promote the progress of science and useful arts
Establish tribunals inferior to the Supreme Court
Declare war (Congress adjusted this power with the War Powers act)
Raise and maintain the military
Make all laws necessary for the execution of our constitution and government
Override Presidential veto with two-thirds majority vote.

Foreign affairs totals about 1% of the nation's overall budget, yet you continually blame the Dept of State for the domestic woes that occur due to Congressional failure to have a coherant domestic policy.

As I said, your targeting is way off base.

My economic situation personally has me down to less than the equivelent of 1 MRE per day...(wasn't kidding John in Greece that my cat eats better than I do.) Kids are adults now and don't need me to put bread on their table.

I have been homeless, I have fed and housed the homeless. I build bicycles for the homeless on request, because it turns a homeless person into a commuter.

I've volunteered at homeless shelters, painted dorms etc. Volunteered for Mil service, but told I was to old and too slow for a first timer, but it didn't stop me from being a volunteer for homeland defense.

Don't let my being a professional houspainter fool you into thinking that's all I've done in my life, or suffered through. Poverty generally sucks bro, and I do know from personal experience over decades. And if the federal government wasn't right now helping me with housing, I'd be on the street, instead of having picked myself up by the bootstraps for the umteenth time. Might be anyway soon now with a messed up shoulder and loss of work with worker's comp ( AIG was the carrier of all the luck) fighting the claim.

So when I tell you that these domestic matters affect me personally, it is the truth. But this is a foreign affairs blog and that's where my focus is.

I've not just seen what you've seen, around me, I've lived it get off your small minded podium and correct your targeting parameters.

I don't blame DoS for my troubles like you do. You sound like a disgruntled former employee.

No personal attack involved Joe, but if you think that about 12 cents from every taxpayer anually in this nation is too much to give to the world, to keep this nation from letting the world go to hell, and that if we cut the world off it won't affect America directly as a result in exactly the way I described, then you are not thinking of America first. Period.

And the day al Quaida sets off a nuke in Nashville because we were not able to feed the world for lack of State Dept funding, you'll personally understand exactly what I mean when I say such reasoning is patheticly hypocritical.

According to the Federalist Papers, the power surrendered by the people, is first divided between two distinct governments (the legislative and the executive).

Since the President makes foreign policy and Congress funds the State Dept and all of its many programs, foreign assistance included. You now have your constitutional answer.

We are a nation at war, and the first hit we took was directed specificly at our financial infrastructure, military command and control, but missed the executive and legislative infrastructure because of a few brave souls that made sure that plane never made it past a field in Pennselvania.

I look at the golden parachute con artists on Wall Street as little more than fifth column "useful idiots" to the enemy we face in the war on terror.

So quote me to your congressman if you would, because whether you appreciate my perspective or not, I'm dead on target.

P.S. You wrote from last week's quest of the week....

"I understand why you did not post my last entry.

Methodology is not general knowledge; however, it does verify I am who I am and who I was -- period. What transpired was not of my doing but of a Society I presume.

In any event, would anyone here like to identify a valid background for discussion? As the same people seem to monopolize this blog, what, in effect, are your backgrounds? "

Joe, I have a retired US Marine Colonel sitting in my living room as I write this who would like to know your MOS and branch of service.

Please provide verifiable credentials of your knowledge of political and/or military strategy.

Old buddy of mine who's stood back to back with me in some tight situations, and he'd like to satisfy his curiosity about your post above.

September 22, 2008

Vijai writes:

it is heart touching blog.


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