Where Does Statelessness Happen?


When Bangladesh split from Pakistan in a 1971 civil war, hundreds of thousands of Biharis loyal to Pakistan were stranded. Pakistan has refused to accept these people, many of whom are still living in internal refugee camps, and Bangladesh does not consider them citizens.


The Rohingya have lived in western Burma for thousands of years. As a Muslim minority group, they have faced systematic discrimination by the military regime. In an attempt to flee persecution, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have ended up in Bangladesh, Thailand, Malaysia, and other neighboring countries where they continue to suffer.

Côte d'Ivoire

In the early 2000s, Côte d'Ivoire changed its electoral rules to thwart the presidential campaign of Alassane Ouattara. Thousands of Ivoirians of Burkinabe descent were denationalized, which ultimately led to a civil war. A classic example of how statelessness fuels conflict: when their candidate couldn’t run and they couldn’t vote, Ivoirians of Burkinabe descent took up arms.

Dominican Republic

The Dominican government continues to deny thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent—even Dominicans who have parents or grandparents born in the Dominican Republic—access to identification documents, despite previously having been recognized as citizens by the state.


For centuries the Roma have faced discrimination throughout Europe. Their plight is compounded by the fact that many Roma lack personal identity documents. Without these documents the Roma cannot register for school or receive necessary health care.


After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, many ethnic Russians were stranded in the new Baltic states. In Estonia and Latvia, ethnic Russians have had trouble obtaining citizenship and are frequently discriminated against.


Many of the more than 100,000 Nubians in Kenya cannot obtain identity cards or passports and are barred from traveling, working in the formal sector, and benefiting from government services. The state’s refusal to recognize Nubians as citizens encourages ethnic discrimination and hostility toward them throughout Kenya.


In 1989, the Arab-dominated government stripped the citizenship of tens of thousands of black Mauritanians in the country’s south. They were rounded up, had their identification papers confiscated and destroyed, and were driven across the border into Senegal, where many have since been stranded in refugee camps. Although subsequent governments have pledged to restore citizenship to these Mauritanians, the situation is far from resolved.

Middle East

Palestinians displaced as a result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict and creation of the state of Israel constitute what is today the world’s largest refugee population (4.6 million registered by the UN). Hundreds of thousands remain stateless and vulnerable with limited or no status in their host countries. The majority are distributed primarily in Arab countries that border Israel and the occupied Palestinian Territories.

Sri Lanka

As colonial rulers, the English moved thousands of ethnic Tamils from India to run the tea plantations in Sri Lanka and help rule over the majority Sinhalese. In 1949, the Sinhalese-dominated government stripped the Estate Tamils of their citizenship, leaving them stateless and helping fuel the civil war that plagues Sri Lanka to this day.


In 1996, Slovenia’s government placed the names of 18,305 longtime residents who had failed to apply for citizenship on a register of foreigners residing illegally in Slovenia. Many remain stateless today, with little or no access to social services such as health care and education.


The Hill Tribe people have lived in the mountainous northern part of Thailand since prehistoric times. However, the Hill Tribes are not ethnically Thai and don’t speak Thai, and the government has refused to issue them ID cards or provide state services. This situation leaves them economically vulnerable, especially to human trafficking.


Using a new law prohibiting dual nationality, President Robert Mugabe’s government has refused to issue identity cards or passports to anyone suspected of having “foreign” citizenship—in practice, those with “foreign” names—unless they formally renounce their supposed foreign citizenship. The move disenfranchised opposition supporters, commercial farmers, and independent newspaper owners.