What does it mean to be stateless?
People usually acquire a nationality automatically at birth, either through their parents or the country in which they were born..
A stateless person is someone who, under national laws, does not enjoy citizenship – the legal bond between a government and an individual – in any country.
Some people are born stateless, but others become stateless.
Statelessness can occur for several reasons, including discrimination against particular ethnic or religious groups, or on the basis of gender; the emergence of new States and transfers of territory between existing States; and gaps in nationality laws.
Whatever the cause, statelessness has serious consequences for people in almost every country and in all regions of the world.
Often they are excluded from cradle to grave — being denied a legal identity when they are born, access to education, health care, marriage and job opportunities during their lifetime and even the dignity of an official burial and a death certificate when they die. Many pass on the status of statelessness on to their children, who then pass it on to the next generation.
The irony is that these people find themselves stateless through no fault of their own.
Thailand has a total registered population of 438,821 stateless people – those who are not considered citizens of any nation due to various circumstances. According to the International Observatory on Statelessness, the exact number of stateless people in Thailand is unknown, but probably ranges between 2 to 3.5 million.
Several million Burmese live in Thailand, having fled persecution and economic deprivation in their country of origin. About 150,000 refugees have been allowed to live in temporary refugee camps, leaving more than two million others to live outside the camps illegally.
Children born to Burmese in Thailand are ineligible for citizenship either in Burma or in Thailand. To secure citizenship, they need to show that they, and at least one of their parents, had been born in Thailand. These requirements are difficult for those who lack documentation or other evidence of birthplace and parentage and can often be very expensive for an impoverished community.
The number of stateless children in Thailand is unknown. Estimates suggest 3,000 to 15,000 children are born every year to some 500,000 migrant workers.
Why should I care?
Stateless people suffer terrible personal consequences. Often they do not have the ability to visit schools, access healthcare, or legally obtain work. And stateless people are more vulnerable to violence and other rights violations such as human trafficking.
Everyone — regardless of their legal status—has a right to fundamental conditions of human decency. Open society embraces the notion of human community, to which statelessness is antithetical. All persons have a right to participate in the communities where they live, and stateless persons are denied that right.
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