Stateless children face uncertain futures as global conflicts push migrants and refugees into safer locations. What happens to children born without nationality in a world looking to ignore responsibilities?
Every ten minutes, a child is born stateless. To be stateless means to hold no country of origin or documentation. There is no freedom, only fear of being shifted to another nation where the child will once again be left without any legal representation.
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Over 52,500 children are forced into a box they didn’t ask to be placed in. Every political discussion about refugees, immigration, and documentation means no school, no job, no bank account, or any chance of marriage. In many countries, people without nationalities can’t register children’s birth, so the generational discrimination continues.
The idea may be abstract to those who possess a national identification, but the 10 million without any coverage face the reality every single day.
TIME reports that many non-Syrian refugees are facing a fear of being deported or denied asylum. It is not unfounded fear. Germany recently started deporting seekers whose homeland had been deemed safe. In a deal to maintain coalition ties, Chancellor Angela Merkel has agreed to process asylum seeker applications as expediently as possible. If the denied, the seeker will be forced to return to their native country.
According Al Jazeera, the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS) pushed back at the plan, saying “Asylum rights are once more being curtailed.” Political pressure to bend to a more isolationist, parochial view will not help the nation, either. German citizens may do well to reexamine the crumbling of the Weimar Republic and the outcome of such decisions.
Or look up the efforts of Otto von Bismarck’s Kulturkampf campaign. The Center Party’s rise is directly linked to the oppression of a religious minority. As the first Chancellor, the efforts to limit and eliminate any kind of political rights for the Pope coalesced into a humiliating defeat.
Both eras of the nation’s history hold foundation in a particular viewpoint and the eventual upheaval. And the subsequent political actions of Bismarck marched the world into a completely different world. One that wasn’t always good.
And Great Britain, a conservative country on the subject of immigration, has deported 200 seekers under guise of the Dublin designation rule. The Independent found in an exclusive report that 20 children had been returned to Greece under an outdated and controversial criteria. Data shows the moment a child reaches 18, visas are often reevaluated and the newly legal – or illegal -adult is returned to conflict-ridden Syria.
In a worrying trend, rates of unaccompanied Syrian children finding asylum have dropped in nearly half since 2013. Adults have a much higher rate of acceptance. And that’s only Syrian children, the international focus.
According to the British press, the Home Office claims “there will be circumstances where children do not meet the criteria to be recognized as a refugee under the Refugee Convention.” Discretionary elements may cause a child to not be deemed worthy of safety.
“But they may be granted another form of leave to remain, for example humanitarian protection or discretionary leave.” Until they turn 18, and then they’re gone. And that’s a problem. As Baby Boomers retire and the Silent Generation dies out, many European countries face a dearth of workers in the labor force.
These children could grow up in their new nation and become part of the workforce, continuing to create an economic boom as the refugees build communities and businesses. Long-term merits must be evaluated in accepting new members of a nation.
However, the British Home Office believes the current foreign policy for refugees is maintainable and positive for the nation.
“The UK has a proud history of granting asylum to those who need it and we consider every application on its individual merits. We take cases involving children seriously and their welfare is at the heart of every decision made.” Just don’t grow up.
The world is rebuilding a global marketplace and economy after the 2008 fallout. And as the European Union looks at gaining return investments from nations like Greece, placing the bulk of responsibility on the weakest economical links will not offer a fast recovery. And many of the fleeing refugees have education and skills needed in Europe—both currently and training the next generation.
Colonization and emancipation
Not since World War II have so many people sought asylum. Why? The world is upended in many regions, like the Middle East and North Africa. Citizens demanding representation, military conflicts, and unstable leadership helped develop the latest crisis.
The United States has helped to destabilize regions through wars and military action since 2001. A nation whose own policy for refugees and undocumented workers faces ongoing criticism. The Dream Act (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) is a touch point in every political debate, with candidates frequently raising the possibility of closing borders. Like Hungary recently did.
But what happens to the children born after their parents arrive? What happens to the children who now have no state to turn to in case of a major conflict? Whose embassy would take an 18-year-old stateless citizen? Who can a stateless child turn to in instances of abuse, harm, or threats?
This is part of the unspoken silence.
How does a world recover when the future workforce receives little to no education? Innovation comes from an interdisciplinary coalition. The United Nation’s Refugee Agency launched a new campaign that focuses exactly on how this amount of stress and fear weighs down children across the world.
By focusing on three stateless children in Côte d’Ivorie, the organization asks global citizens to consider what it must feel like for the 700,000 who remain stateless in the country. When colonial powers seized people from other local nations like Mali to work, nationality wasn’t considered. The unfortunate, disgusting side of the acts codifies the notion that those who have lived in the nation for generations are still not considered true members of society.
Not to mention, those with a Burkinabé background are not eligible for citizenship due to the French emancipation in 1960. Owed to political dissent, a portion of the Ivorian population will never be allowed to use jus soli (‘right of the soil’), or birth on Ivorian soil, as a right to citizenship. While more common in the United States, French nationality laws have included the provision since the 18th century. However, a member of a dissolved state or a newly formed nation may find it difficult to fight the legal system if one is even available.
And foundlings, abandoned children, are not represented in national law—so no one has to claim responsibility. Children who have never known any other culture are still invisible through willful ignorance.
Recently, Haitians living in the Dominican Republic faced deportation. In August, Haiti pushed back at its neighboring country and refused entry to anyone who would become stateless at the deportation. Part of the problem comes from the fact that many Haitians living in the Dominican Republic were refused documentation.
Children born in the middle of political power games face statelessness. An action that should be unconscionable to most people since the “in transit” status is partially due to this political maneuvering. And these children will not be considered Haitian, either.
So where do these children go to school? Where do these children get their shots and vaccinations after moving to a new country? Where do these children belong? How do you solve statelessness when no one steps up?
The Refugee Agency’s interview with 13-year-old Joe Hullman shows a wisdom and maturity that shouldn’t be weighing on a teenager’s shoulders. He tells journalist Chris Boian that “I like math” and finds peace in education. One of the few who are able to find an education. A harsh reality.
In 2013, the Dominican Republic’s Constitutional Court declared that anyone with undocumented parents would no longer be considered citizens. And backdated the time to 1929, when the Constitution was amended to reject jus soli citizenship to children of transit workers.
In other words, the nation moved the yardstick to the same year as the Great Depression—another era of racism and xenophobia for Western civilization. And in 2004, the nation expanded the vague “in transit” to include all non-residents. Including those attempting to gain residence but were summarily denied for generations. And across the globe, gaining statehood is a very expensive. And expenses must be limited for workers unable to work legally.
According to Golden Gate University’s Law Review, it was the case of Yean and Bosico v. Dominican Republic that determined the new rule. The Inter-American Court on Human Rights denied the nation’s ability to deny citizenship outside the Constitution. From there, the jus soli and jus sanguine (right of blood) provisions were expanded—excluding at least 2 million people from any national benefits.
And the legislative branch is aware of a less-than-comprehensive record-keeping; this allows for an increased number of stateless cases.
Hullman’s friend Adrian Jean is even more honest and aware of the possibilities of living without documentation. “If you don’t have any papers, anything can happen to you.” Fear hinders what education is provided. How does a child study hard when there’s a chance of deportation at every turn? When no nation is willing to stand up for civil rights?
In the time it took to write this article, over eighteen more children have found themselves facing an uncertain future. No education, no passport, no sense of security. Look around, imagine a neighborhood kid suddenly disappearing when a government agency decides that their safety isn’t required; that it doesn’t matter that the child’s been in the country since birth.
Now replace that child with one you love.
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How do you solve statelessness? Remember human empathy and responsibility. I belong only if we belong. Time to cue up a Pat Benatar song or two.