According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, over 10 million people in the world are considered stateless. Of these 10 million, more than a third belong to the Rohingya diaspora. While much media attention has focused on the plight of the Rohingya embroiled in the recent conflict in Rakhine, Burma, much less attention has been paid to the struggles which the stateless Rohingya face worldwide on a daily basis.
As defined by Article 1 of the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, a “stateless person” is someone who is not classified as a national by any state under its law. While many stateless individuals are considered refugees, it is not a necessary condition for statelessness. In fact, only a minor portion of stateless people are refugees. Statelessness can apply to individuals in both migration and non-migration situations. A person who has never crossed international borders may still be identified as stateless depending on his or her status.
The primary challenges faced by stateless individuals all relate to lack of recognized identification. Many basic human rights taken for granted in most states depend to a large degree on the availability of nationality by the individual. Government and private services require identification such as a passport or national ID card as a norm before allowing access. The ability to open a bank account, visit a health clinic or travel freely within the country are thus denied or made increasingly difficult for stateless individuals such as the Rohingya. As per the Institute on Statelessness and Inclusions’ report The World Stateless released in 2014, “The harsh reality for many stateless persons is a story of lack of opportunity, of lack of protection and of lack of participation.”