Statelessness: “Like a bird with nowhere to rest on the ground”

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59 year-old Tauy from has spent the last six years in limbo. Originally from Belarus, he fled to the UK in 2002 and claimed asylum, but his application was refused. He had exhausted his appeal rights by 2005 but was unable to establish entitlement to Belarusian or any other nationality and so unable to return home. If he could leave the UK, he says, then he would:

“I see that according to the law they will not allow me to go out of this country. Give me a travel document and I will leave immediately – you will not see me again. If I am undesirable here then okay but allow me to go out. They are trying to destroy me physically. It is dirty tricks. I am stateless.”

Tauy is just one of the stateless people interviewed by UNHCR and Asylum Aid as part of their research report Mapping Statelessness in the UK, launched today. On the 50th anniversary of the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, the report looks at the number and situation of stateless persons living in the UK, and recommends legal solutions to the plight into which stateless persons are forced.

Mapping Statelessness finds that stateless live at daily risk of human rights infringements. Many are trapped in a nightmarish legal limbo from which there is currently no escape. Being stateless is likened by one interviewee to being “a bird with nowhere to rest on the ground, but which can’t spend his whole life in the sky”.

UNHCR and Asylum Aid interviewed many stateless people who were forced to live on the street, with no accommodation and no right to remain in the UK, but with no other country to which they can turn for help. The research also uncovered stateless people who had been held in detention for months or separated from their spouses and children for many years – in some cases, for more than a decade.

The human cost of statelessness is immense. Tauy has not seen his four children for more than ten years. “My life started in the Soviet gulag and now I have ended up stuck in this gulag”.

Roland Schilling, UNHCR Representative to the UK, said:

“It is not acceptable for any person to be excluded from society to such an extent that they are denied access to education, employment, housing and even identity documents, because no country in the world feels responsible for them. Although statelessness is a global problem, it appears in the UK as well. We call upon the UK government to address the challenge of statelessness and to ensure that the human rights of stateless persons on UK territory are not infringed. This report maps their situation and recommends practical steps on how to find a solution for them”.

UNHCR estimates that there are up to 12 million stateless people in the world, but defining exact numbers is hugely problematic. Mapping Statelessness is the first research of its kind to ascertain the extent of the problem and the dire human consequences for stateless people in the UK.

The launch is accompanied by a photographic exhibition by award-winning photographer Greg Constantine, Nowhere People: the Global Face of Statelessness, which will be shown at the Royal Albert Hall until 5 December. Over the years, photographer Greg Constantine has been working to bring to light the stories of stateless people around the world and give a human face to this global issue. Nowhere People serves as a reminder of the existence of the millions of stateless people who are hidden and forgotten around the world.

By Laura Padoan in London.

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