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What it’s like to have no nationality. A message from the CEO

Categories: CEO's Blog

Four million people in the Indian province of Assam, mostly Muslims, will be left without citizenship next month unless the government includes them on an official register. Thousands of people will be left without a home if the Italian government follows through on promises to expel Roma people. Thousands of children in the UK are left without British nationality because they can’t afford the obligatory fee to register as British citizens. In Thailand, three of the boys who were recently trapped in a cave who had no nationality, have since been granted Thai citizenship.

At a time when right-wing politics of race and discrimination is taking a hold across the world’s democracies, the issue of citizenship and belonging is rarely out of the news But if the Thai example tells us anything, it’s that there are solutions and hope.

What is statelessness

For most of us, our nationality is something we take for granted. It usually only becomes relevant when searching for a passport the night before summer holidays. But our nationality gives us the most basic things we need to live. Steven, not his real name, came to the UK from Nigeria. But he’s not Nigerian, as he discusses in this video, he doesn’t “belong anywhere”. He is not a citizen of any country. He is stateless and this has severe consequences. “I can’t rent a flat, I can’t register with a GP, or a dentist. I can’t work or open a bank account.  I’ve been to all the colleges in Cardiff but none of them will accept me because of my situation”.

Thousands of people in the UK are in this position. Without the legal right to work, to access welfare, or rent a home, many become destitute. This puts them at enormous risk of ill-health and exploitation. MRC is helping stateless people to obtain legal status and nationality, so they can build a brighter future.

What causes someone to have no nationality?

When we met Sayed Alwaedi in London, he had fled from Bahrain with his wife where he was tortured for protesting government abuses during the Arab ‘Spring’. In the UK he continued to call for the Bahraini government to respect human rights and as a result was stripped of his citizenship leaving him with no nationality and no country where he can live and work legally.

Sayed was made stateless as a targeted form of punishment. Some governments target entire groups of people they perceive as ‘outsiders’, denying them citizenship and often subjecting them to violence. This is what’s happening to the Rohingya people in Burma.

Children of stateless people are often born stateless. This is what happened to Sayed’s family. His daughter, Hajer, was born stateless in London in 2017. In part this was because Sayed is stateless, in part because Bahrain’s law (like many other countries) does not allow women to pass on their nationality to their children, and in part because the Home Office has delayed granting Sayed and his wife indefinite leave to remain in the UK. If this had be granted promptly, Hajer would have been born with British citizenship.

Stateless in the UK

Following advocacy by MRC (then Asylum Aid) and others, the UK introduced a process in 2013 to help stateless people obtain a legal status allowing them to remain here. The ‘statelessness determination procedure’ means that people who have no nationality and nowhere else to go can have a home.  But, in reality, Home Office delays and a lack of understanding among Home Office staff about how to handle statelessness cases, means that very few people have benefitted from the procedure.

In any case, being granted leave to remain in the UK as a stateless person is only temporary. After some time, a stateless person may have the right to apply for British citizenship. However, a fee of £1330 for adults, many of whom have been unable to work legally for most of their lives, means many cannot afford citizenship. About 60% of this fee, according to the Home Office, is above the cost of processing the application – profit.

MRC’s caseworkers help stateless individuals and families obtain recognition and permission to remain in the UK, working with them to gather the necessary evidence and make a strong case to the Home Office. No person in the UK has to be stateless, without the legal right to live and work here. That’s why we’re also working with the Home Office, law firms, and other organisations to ensure key people understand statelessness and can help people who need a solution to their lack of citizenship.

It is bizarre that any child, in 2018, should be born stateless in the UK. Enduring solutions exist, and we are dedicated to ensuring that children like Hajer are born into a society that truly values citizenship and inclusion for all people in the UK, regardless of their age, place of origin, or financial background.

Wayne Myslik, CEO
Migrants Resource Centre


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