THE HAGUE (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - When Ekaterina’s father was dying she could not visit him in Uzbekistan because she did not have a passport – so she tried to get herself deported.
But as a stateless person living in the United States, she could not even do that.
Ekaterina is among hundreds of thousands of ex-Soviet citizens who have not been able to acquire the nationality of any of the successor states since the break-up of the bloc.
Some like Ekaterina, who was abroad when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, have been stranded in limbo ever since.
Ekaterina told her story in a film shown at a global conference on statelessness in The Hague that ends on Friday.
Stateless people do not have passports so were unable to attend in person to tell their stories, although delegates included a number of formerly stateless people.
An empty chair was placed next to panelists speaking at the conference to symbolize the people who could not be there.
Ekaterina is a member of United Stateless, a campaign group comprising stateless people from various backgrounds living in the United States.
There are an estimated 10 to 15 million stateless people globally who are not recognized as a citizen of any country. There are no statistics on the number in the United States.
People end up stateless for a host of complex historical, social and legal reasons - including migration, flawed citizenship laws and ethnic discrimination.
Sometimes called “nowhere people” or “legal ghosts”, they are often deprived of basic rights and vulnerable to exploitation.
“Stateless people live in fear of detention - all the time,” said another woman in the video called D.A. who was born stateless in Kuwait.
Ekaterina said she had not been able to end her statelessness even though she was married to an American.
“Several years ago I learnt my father was dying. I made the heart-wrenching decision to deport myself to be by his side. I was denied deportation,” she said, adding she had not seen her family for 24 years.
Miliyon, born to an Eritrean father and Ethiopian mother, said he had spent $50,000 on legal fees but still had no solution in sight.
“I’m a tax payer and I cannot open a bank account, I cannot get a driving license, I cannot report a crime,” he said.
The United Nation launched an ambitious campaign in 2014 to eradicate statelessness within a decade.
Some countries, including Brazil, the Netherlands and Britain, have set up procedures which provide stateless people with a way to legalize their residence so they can rebuild their lives.
Melanie Khanna, head of the U.N. refugee agency’s section on statelessness, urged the United States to set up a stateless determination procedure to help those like Ekaterina.
She said stateless people often lived isolated lives and hoped United Stateless would spur the creation of similar groups around the world.
Reporting by Emma Batha, Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit news.trust.org