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Dublin: 2°C Thursday 6 May 2021

Statelessness: 12 million people do not have a nationality

“I am like a bird with nowhere to rest on the ground but which can’t spend his whole life in the sky.” – Yasser, stateless.

The break-up of the Soviet Union created legal and bureaucratic obstacles that still affect people today. After years of trying to get Ukrainian citizenship, the man pictured here has given up hope but his partner is determined to find a way to regularise his status so that he can live the rest of his life in peace and avoid deportation. “I’ve lost all hope to get my passport.  My only problem is that I cannot move because I cannot go beyond this town. Even in this region I can be arrested. I’m always concerned that I will be arrested and detained somewhere and that would cause me problems to find my way back home here. That’s why I almost never leave my house.”

(From the series Nowhere People, The World’s Stateless © UNHCR /G. Constantine, 2009)

IT IS ESTIMATED that about 12 million people across the world are in a similar situation to the man pictured because they do not have a nationality. This little-publicised state of statelessness is being highlighted by the Irish office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees this month.

Through his exhibition, ‘Nowhere People. The World’s Stateless’ (beginning today at The Atrium in the Department of Justice and Equality at St Stephen’s Green), photographer Greg Constantine shows that despite perceptions, nationality is not a universal birthright.

Stateless people have no legal identity, are citizens of no country and are some of the most vulnerable and invisible people in the world

People without a formal nationality are often unable to obtain identity documents and can be detained because of their statelessness. Access to education and health services, as well as employment can also be greatly limited.

Parents are not able to register the birth of their children, own property or travel freely. According to the UNHCR, statelessness often leaves a person without a sense of identity and with little or no voice. “Nowhere People serves as a reminder of why it is so urgent to resolve this global problem,” the Irish office says.

Making someone extremely vulnerable, statelessness occurs for a number of reasons. Discrimination against minority groups in nationality legislations, failure to include all residents in the body of citizens when a state becomes independent and conflicts of laws between states have all been factors for those who do not possess a nationality.

A well-known photographer in the US, Constantine decided to move to Asia in 2005 to document the plight of stateless people around the world. Sine then, his work has received a number of awards and has been published in a number of countries.

He has also released a book Exiled to Nowhere: Burma’s Rohingya which tells the stories of some of the world’s most oppressed and forgotten people, providing evidence of their courage – whatever the ground beneath their feet.

The UNHCR has a mandate to work with governments to prevent statelessness and to resolve those cases that already exist. This can be achieved through simple, low-cost actions, say staff. The global agency also works to protect the rights of stateless people and helps them to acquire nationality and documentation.

Among the groups featured in this month’s exhibition are the minority Rohingya from Western Myanmar. With a long history of statelessness and displacement, they have been among the thousands affected by recent violence in Rakhine State. More than 80 Rohingya refugees came to Ireland in 2009 as part of the Government’s resettlement programme.

“Still we don’t have nationality, we don’t have any right to call any land our home,” explains one refugee who is currently living in Bangladesh. “We can’t live in peace. People view us as if we don’t exist.”

The Dublin exhibition is free of charge and open to the public Monday to Friday from 9am to 6.30pm. The images of the world’s most vulnerable and forgotten people, like the one below, are also part of the PhotoIreland Festival from 5 to 19 July.

A stateless woman, pictured by Constantine in eastern Ukraine, holds her expired Soviet passport. She has been trying to receive Ukrainian citizenship for more than 10 years. Meanwhile, she does not get a pension despite working for more than 30 years.

(From the series Nowhere People, The World’s Stateless © UNHCR /G. Constantine, 2009)

See more at Greg Constantine’s website>

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