The harsh reality for many stateless persons is a story of lack of opportunity, of lack of human rights protection and of lack of participation. They face challenges in all areas of life, including: accessing education and healthcare, finding gainful employment, buying or inheriting property, registering a car or a business, obtaining a birth certificate, driving license, marriage certificate or even death certificate, opening a bank account or getting a loan; falling back on social security, and enjoying a pension. Obtaining a passport or being issued any form of identity documentation is extremely difficult, such that many stateless persons have no proof that they exist and no means by which to identify themselves in their day-to-day interactions with the state or with private entities. International travel is almost inconceivable, unless by illicit – and dangerous – means. Free movement within the state of residence, even if it is where the person was born and has all of his or her ties, can also be difficult. Arbitrary arrest and detention, including in the person’s home country, is not uncommon. In some cases, detention becomes prolonged or even indefinite, if the state is intent on expulsion, but no other country would allow the person to enter. Where a stateless person wants to assert their rights, or where they have become a victim of crime or exploitation, their statelessness can also stand in the way of accessing justice.
Stateless persons may be subjected to specific regulations or practices that do not apply to other residents in a state. For instance, there may be restrictions on their movement within the territory or they may be denied land rights. In extreme cases, further debilitating and dehumanising restrictions may also be imposed, such as on marriage or reproductive rights. They may be a target for exploitative practices, such as forced labour or extortion. Indeed, the treatment of stateless persons can, in certain instances, amount to persecution. Moreover, the constraints that stateless persons experience, coupled with the fact of not being formally recognised as a member of their – or indeed any – country, has an evident impact on their well-being. A diminished sense of self-worth and in some instances a confused sense of identity and belonging can prompt sentiments of hopelessness, anxiety and depression.
The foregoing consequences of statelessness can also create a ripple such that they are felt not just by those individuals who are directly impacted, but also by their family members, wider society and the international community of states. A mother who holds nationality, but whose son is stateless because she was not able to confer her nationality to him, worries that he will never have a family of his own. A country in which a whole community has been excluded, disenfranchised, stigmatised and perhaps even vilified through the denial of nationality may face social tensions that affect both the stateless and citizens alike. Mounting tensions between the ‘in’ group and those portrayed as outsiders can also fuel conflict. Where conflict arises or where the stateless face persecution and are forced to seek sanctuary elsewhere, their displacement becomes a concern for the receiving country and the international community as a whole.