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Minority Rights Group International campaigns worldwide with around 130 partners in over 60 countries to ensure that disadvantaged minorities and indigenous peoples, often the poorest of the poor, can make their voices heard.

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Denial and Denigration: How Racism Feeds Statelessness

October 2017
Everyone has the right to a nationality. Yet, many millions of people worldwide are stateless.

Minorities and indigenous peoples are especially vulnerable to statelessness. Through research, films, photos and case studies, this website explores how statelessness is often an outcome of discrimination and racism.
Author: Bronwen Manby.
Main photo: Rohingya girl in Myanmar. Credit: Steve Gumaer.

Numbering many millions, the world’s stateless population spans a vast range of ethnicities, religions, languages and socioeconomic conditions. Their lack of formal citizenship of any country can leave them excluded from state structures, without the right to vote or access basic services such as healthcare or education. In extreme cases, statelessness may leave them vulnerable […]

2 min read

Stateless people are found all over the world, in every region and every state. However, Asia and Africa are the two continents that host the largest number of stateless people. This is due to the widespread combination of weak systems of documentation, including low rates of birth registration, and laws and practices that discriminate in […]

6 min read

A short film introducing statelessness and how it affects minorities and indigenous communities around the world. Photo: Murle young women in South Sudan. Credit: UNMISS.

1 min read

The causes of statelessness around the world are remarkably consistent: transfers of sovereignty or contested territory, discriminatory or defective laws, suspicion of communities divided by international borders or who are perceived as different or threatening, lack of legal and administrative protection for children at risk of statelessness, and the risks created by migration (especially forced […]

9 min read

Asia hosts the largest number of people identified by UNHCR as being stateless, including the largest single population of stateless persons in the world, the Rohingya minority of Myanmar, numbering almost one million. However, statelessness is certainly significantly underreported: among several countries with missing statistics, UNHCR records no stateless persons in India or China, the […]

7 min read

Rohingya are an ethnic, religious and linguistic minority, traditionally concentrated in the northern part of Myanmar’s western Rakhine state, on the border with Bangladesh. Most practice Sunni Islam and speak the Rohingya language. They are considered the largest single group of stateless people in the world and together are thought to account for as many […]

8 min read

International media attention on indigenous sea nomadic populations increased dramatically after the Indian Ocean tsunami that struck the coast of Thailand in 2004. Most examined traditional knowledge of the ‘sea gypsies’ that enabled them to take shelter on inland hills and warn others of the impending danger, soaked with romantic depictions of lives dominated by the […]

9 min read

Sama Dilaut, also known as  Bajau Laut, are an ethnic group of Malay origin who traditionally live a nomadic lifestyle at sea. They are known to be affected by statelessness (read more in the previous chapter). In the last few decades many have been forced to settle permanently on land, but a dwindling number still call […]

3 min read

The countries of North, Central, and South America for the most part share a common tradition of attribution of citizenship based on birth in the territory, known as the jus soli rule. Notwithstanding some caveats, this rule broadly provides protection against statelessness and means that the continent as a whole has the lowest number of […]

4 min read

Our Lives in Transit is a 30-minute documentary showing life in the Dominican Republic in the aftermath of a controversial law that leaves over 200,000 people doubting their own identity. Rosa Iris is a young and determined lawyer; we experience a year in her life as she fights for the rights of her community. There […]

1 min read

Europe has both the most information about stateless populations and the most developed set of standards relating to nationality and discrimination. Nonetheless, statelessness is still prevalent across the region. As of the end of 2016, UNHCR estimated that close to 600,000 people were stateless in the European region, a figure made up primarily of linguistic […]

3 min read

Europe’s Roma minorities, long victims of discrimination and persecution, are typically the most vulnerable group to statelessness in the region. While there are multiple reasons for this, including state succession and conflicts in nationality law, this is also due to the specific position of the communities themselves: their situation as a minority, marginalized and stigmatized […]

10 min read

Discussion of statelessness in the Middle East and North Africa is dominated by the special case of the Palestinians, both those living under the Palestinian Authority and those who are refugees in other countries of the region. However, statelessness is also widespread among other minority groups. Many of the long-standing stateless communities trace their situation […]

7 min read

The communities within Africa most at risk of statelessness are similar to those in other continents: the descendants of people who migrated to the country before independence; ethnic groups whose pre-colonial boundaries cross modern borders, including the many millions of Africans following a nomadic way of life; those affected by the creation of new states […]

7 min read

The objective of ensuring the right to nationality for all is a challenge that combines technical, political and social considerations, from legal and administrative reform of citizenship policies to a broader expansion of a country’s understanding of which individuals and communities ‘belong’. Laws establishing the right to nationality at birth or to acquire it later […]

7 min read