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Washington, DC - Millions of stateless children around the world are being denied education, health care, and the basic rights that accompany citizenship, Refugees International revealed in a new report today. Futures Denied: Statelessness among Infants, Children, and Youth calls on governments and the United Nations to take steps to prevent millions of these hidden youth from growing up poor, uneducated, and isolated from society because they are stateless, or lack an effective nationality. In particular, registering every child at birth would be a major step forward.
"Shockingly little is being done to protect the basic rights of millions of stateless children around the world. These children are stigmatized and blocked from such basic services as health care and education because a government won't recognize them as citizens," said Maureen Lynch, Refugees International's Senior Advocate for Stateless Initiatives and author of Futures Denied. "They are born and raised in their parents' habitual country of residence, but they are barred from institutions that could help them develop into full and productive citizens, because they cannot gain formal recognition of their existence."
Futures Denied is based on field visits to fourteen countries in the last three years and highlights individual stories of stateless youth in Bangladesh, Kuwait, the Dominican Republic, Malaysia, Syria, and other countries with some of the largest stateless populations. A substantial percentage of the world's estimated 11-12 million stateless people are children, but no exact numbers are available. Children may become stateless when new states are formed, discriminatory laws are enacted, families flee without identification, or when refugee mothers give birth outside their home countries. As a result, they may face numerous obstacles including discrimination and harassment, restricted movement, limited access to health care or education, trafficking and exploitation, or unnecessary separation from their families.
The UN Refugee Agency has a mandate to prevent and resolve statelessness, but unlike refugees, stateless children receive neither international recognition nor aid. Access to education is frequently limited for stateless children. For example, in Malaysia, children who do not possess a birth certificate cannot go to government schools. Health care is a similar challenge: children without birth certificates cannot be legally vaccinated in at least twenty countries and more than thirty countries require documentation before a child can be treated at a health facility.
"Although the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone has the right to a nationality, these children are forced into an underclass with little hope for the future through no fault of their own," continued Lynch. "Identifying and reducing statelessness is achievable. Ensuring that every child is registered at birth, granting citizenship in cases of disputed nationality, and strengthening the UN Refugee Agency so it can do more to resolve this problem are just a few of the simple steps that can help millions of children access a brighter future."
Refugees International is a Washington, DC-based organization that advocates to end refugee crises. Since 2005, Refugees International has been the leading organization calling on policy makers to reduce the numbers and secure the human rights of stateless people. For more information or to download a copy of the report, go to http://www.refugeesinternational.org.
Contact: Vanessa Parra, 202-828-0110 x225;