By Stephanie Nebehay
GENEVA (Reuters) – An estimated 10 million people worldwide are stateless, including three million officially, a status that deprives them of an identity, rights, and often jobs, the United Nations refugee agency said on Friday.
Muslim Rohingyas in Buddhist-majority Myanmar form the world’s biggest stateless minority, with some 600,000 having fled violence and repression since late August and taken refuge in Bangladesh, it said.
In a report, “This is Our Home” – Stateless Minorities and their Search for Citizenship”, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) called on governments to end the discriminatory practice by 2024.
“If you live in this world without a nationality, you are without an identity, you are without documentation, without the rights and entitlements that we take for granted … having a job, having education, knowing that your child belongs somewhere,” Carol Batchelor, director of UNHCR’s division of international protection, told a news briefing.
UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards said 3.2 million people in 75 countries were known to be stateless, having been registered or counted by governments. But the estimated total is 10 million, including large populations in countries including Indonesia, Ivory Coast, Lebanon and Democratic Republic of Congo, he said.
Governments should give nationality to people born on their territory if they would otherwise be stateless, and facilitate naturalization for longtime stateless residents, UNHCR says.
Other stateless groups — many of whom have lived for generations in their homelands — include many Syrian Kurds, the Karana of Madagascar, Roma in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and the Pemba of Kenya, the report said.
“We need to ensure that there is not a deliberate, arbitrary exclusion or deprivation of nationality,” Batchelor said.
Asked whether Rohingya fell into the category of those deliberately excluded and deprived of nationality, Batchelor said: “We can only look at the result … Myanmar has a nationality law. It outlines categories of persons that are considered to be citizens of Myanmar. The Rohingya are not on that list.”
Some 30,000 stateless people in Thailand have acquired nationality since 2012 and the Makonde, a community of 4,000, became Kenya’s 43rd officially recognized tribe last year, the report said.
“We are seeing reductions in Thailand, in central Asia, in Russia, in Western Africa. But the numbers are not nearly as substantial as they would need to be for us to end statelessness by 2024,” said Melanie Khanna, head of UNHCR’s statelessness section.
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Catherine Evans)