LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - There are an estimated 600,000 stateless people in Europe who are not recognized as nationals by any country. Campaigners are calling for better protection of the continent’s “legal ghosts”. Below, seven people tell their stories.
NATASHA grew up in the former USSR in what is now Moldova. In 1991 she was trafficked to Slovakia and forced into prostitution. She escaped and remained in Slovakia without documents. She tried to contact the Moldovan Embassy to obtain proof of nationality, but this was located in Vienna and she wasn’t able to cross the border without a passport. She was repeatedly detained while the police unsuccessfully tried to deport her. Her two children – Slovak citizens – were placed in care without her consent. She was eventually granted permanent residence as a stateless person in 2012, having been reunited with her children.
RASHID was born in Myanmar. He is a Rohingya, a persecuted ethnic minority which is denied citizenship by Myanmar. He fled to Bangladesh with his mother in 1992 at the age of 12 after his father, a Muslim rights activist, was killed and his sister arrested. In 2012 he traveled to the Netherlands and applied for asylum, but was refused and put in immigration detention. He was released after the Bangladeshi and Myanmar authorities both refused to accept him as a national. However, he cannot regularize his stay in the Netherlands and lead a normal life. He suffers from nightmares, psychological and health issues.
SARAH was born in Congo to a Congolese mother and Rwandan father. She fled to the Netherlands, aged 15, after her parents were arrested on spying allegations. The authorities rejected her asylum application, but could not deport her. While applying for a temporary residence permit Sarah realized she had lost both her nationalities and was stateless. Congolese dual nationals have to choose one nationality when they turn 18, but Sarah did not know this. Rwanda also refused to recognize her because she wasn’t born and had never lived there. With no identity documents, she could not obtain a temporary residence permit. Twelve years on, she is stuck. The Netherlands has no procedure for recognizing stateless people, leaving Sarah unable to study, work or start a family.
LEJLA was born in what is now Croatia to parents originating from Kosovo. Despite being registered in the Croatian birth registry as having Serbian nationality, this was never recorded with the competent Serbian authorities. In 1991 she moved to Kosovo until the 1999 conflict when she was forced to move to Serbia. It was then that Lejla discovered she had no nationality. She could not claim Croatian nationality as her parents were not nationals. However, she cannot prove she is Serbian because records in Kosovo, which her parents say would show they are Serbian nationals, were destroyed during the war. Lejla lives in poverty, unable to work legally or access assistance. She cannot marry the father of her children or obtain citizenship certificates for them.
ROMAN was born in Kosovo in the 1960s. His father was a Yugoslav citizen and his mother a citizen of the USSR. Roman was sent to live with his grandmother in Russia but she died before he was old enough to obtain an ID. He moved to Slovakia more than 20 years ago but remains in limbo due to his lack of nationality. He says he has been repeatedly detained. In 2005, he was issued with an expulsion order and a 10-year re-entry ban. However, he could not leave the country. He cannot apply to become a Slovak citizen because he has a criminal record due to his failure to comply with the expulsion order, but he cannot go anywhere else.
PETER fled his village in Sudan as a child during the 1980s. He was taken to Kenya by a missionary, but had to leave the mission at 18. Unable to return to Sudan due to the war, he traveled to Europe. In 2007 he was refused asylum in France. After years of homelessness he applied for voluntary return to Sudan, but this proved impossible because the Sudanese authorities refused to recognize him. He is destitute and at risk of arrest. In 2012 he applied for recognition as a stateless person — France is one of the few European countries to have a stateless determination procedure. Two years on, he is still awaiting a decision.
BADEMA was born in Italy. She believes her mother was of Kosovan origin and never knew her father. Her mother left her as a baby with her grandparents in Macedonia. When she was three they put her in a center for abandoned children. Badema now lives in a common law marriage with a Macedonian citizen and their three children. But she does not possess any personal documents so she has no legal identity – she cannot marry or register her children who are also stateless. She cannot get work or social assistance and lives in extreme poverty, begging on the streets.
Reporting by Emma Batha, Editing by Ros Russell