Kyrgyzstan has a large, yet decreasing stateless population, a legacy of the collapse of the Soviet Union. The number of recorded stateless persons in the country reduced by 3,000 between 2013 and 2015 and now stands at 9,118. This reduction has been achieved through changes in law and policy over the years including, adopting an increasingly flexible approach in relation to establishing proof of residence for those applying to be naturalised.
Kyrgyzstan’s first post-independence nationality legislation of 1993 linked citizenship to proof of residency in the territory, but failed to provide safeguards against statelessness in the context of state succession. For various reasons, many wishing to acquire Kyrgyz nationality could not prove their link to the country, i.e. through a propiska (residence stamp) in a USSR passport indicating residence in Kyrgyzstan or a birth certificate. Some migrated during or after independence leaving them unable to acquire Kyrgyz nationality as they often obtained a propiska from another Republic. Others had lost their USSR identity documents, missed registration deadlines or were simply unable to travel to registration offices due to distance, travel costs and other reasons.
As a first step to resolving this problem, the 2007 Citizenship Law of the Kyrgyz Republic implemented a facilitated naturalisation procedure for former USSR citizens who are now stateless. Automatic acquisition of nationality became possible for those who had lived in the country for five years and had not applied for citizenship of another country. Though this process resolved a large number of cases of statelessness, many could not meet evidentiary conditions, pay the registration fees or travel to the registration centres. As a response, the 2013 Citizenship Regulation accepts a wider variety of documents as proof of residence (e.g. military service booklets, school diplomas, and testimonies from people fulfilling a certain capacity) and practical barriers are being resolved through the use of mobile registration centres.
The recorded stateless population in Malaysia at the end of 2015 was 11,689. This is a considerable decrease of about 30,000 in the past two years. However, this does not necessarily relate to a large number of persons accessing nationality, but rather, the adjustment of the estimated stateless population. The previous figure of 40,000 was an estimated figure that UNHCR reported covering West Malaysia only (mainly referring to the ethnic Tamil population of Indian origin). As a result of the work on statelessness carried out by Development of Human Resources in Rural Areas (DHRRA), UNHCR was able to report a figure of 11,641, which serves as a baseline figure
DHRRA has been involved in resolving statelessness in the country through addressing “birth registration and other legal identity documentation issues among the Indian community [mostly of Tamil descent] in Malaysia.” By July 2016, 700 out of 12,341 stateless persons who had been registered with DHRRA in the latest phase of their project acquired Malaysian nationality documentation, close to 8,000 nationality applications had been submitted to the authorities and 3,723 applications were pending submission. DHRRA has also started looking at statelessness among indigenous groups in central Peninsular (West) Malaysia.
Significantly, the present statistics for the known stateless population in Malaysia only refers to West Malaysia and does not include the communities in Sabah or Sarawak, including the Sama Dilaut, who may be at a high risk of statelessn ess. Irregular migrants who are stateless or at risk of statelessness as well as stateless refugees in the country, including the Rohingya, are also not included.
The Rohingya have suffered discrimination, exclusion, and persecution for many decades. While the nationality status of many Rohingya was unclear due to discriminatory practices, Myanmar’s 1982 Citizenship law and subsequent state practice confirmed and entrenched their statelessness through arbitrarily depriving them of their nationality and systematically denying them access to nationality. According to UNHCR statistics, an estimated 938,000 Rohingya were stateless at the end of 2015, and the latest Human Rights Council report on Myanmar (2016) provides an estimate of over one million stateless Rohingya in Rakhine State alone. The majority of Rohingya in Myanmar have lived in northern Rakhine State for decades, in remote locations and under marginalised circumstances.
In the latter part of 2016 violence against the Rohingya in Myanmar escalated, following attacks on three border posts in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine State on 9 October, during which nine Myanmar border police officers were killed. The state mounted a sustained, indiscriminate and disproportionate programme of collective punishment of Rohingya in northern Rakhine State. Allegations of a range of gross human rights violations carried out by the Myanmar army, including arbitrary arrests and torture, the displacement of over 50,000 persons, indiscriminate killings and rapes of women and the destruction by fire of entire villages, were met by denial from the Myanmar government. The state blocked access to humanitarian aid (including existing programmes) – an act which severely put at risk the lives of over 140,000 people who are dependent on aid, and barred independent human rights monitors and reporters from entering the area. As a result of this latest wave of persecution, as of 6 December 2016 over 21,000 Rohingya had fled across the border to Bangladesh. The situation in Myanmar has been described as amounting to genocide by the International State Crime Initiative of Queen Mary University of London.
Looking at the statistics, it is unclear how many non-Rohingya persons in Myanmar were also rendered stateless by the 1982 citizenship law (e.g. those with Chinese, Indian, and Nepali ancestry). Particularly after the previous government announced the expiry of temporary identity certificates (TICs) in February 2015. The TIC was the primary document held by stateless people in Rakhine State to prove their legal residence in the country. Approximately 700,000 stateless people across the country possessed this document, including Rohingya, Chinese and other minority groups. In June 2015, a new ‘identity card for nationality verification’ was announced. However, it was widely viewed with suspicion.
The number of stateless people in Nepal is unknown, yet the risk of statelessness is high. Nepal is one of 27 countries that maintains sex discriminatory nationality laws which prevent women from conferring their nationality on their children on the same basis as men. Despite significant national and international advocacy over many years, the adoption of a new Constitution in 2015 has not resulted in the removal of gender discrimination from the country’s nationality laws. Though the letter of the law states that a child can acquire Nepali nationality if either the father or the mother is a national, the risk of statelessness amongst children born in Nepal to a Nepali mother still arises if the father’s identity is unknown, if he is deceased or has deserted the family, is a foreigner who cannot pass on his own nationality or refuses to acknowledge his paternity.
Gender discrimination also exists with regard to the conferral of nationality to foreign spouses. While the Constitution explicitly mentions the possibility for foreign women who have married Nepali men to acquire naturalised citizenship, such a provision does not exist for foreign men married to Nepali women. This could lead to statelessness if the foreign man loses his nationality, for instance, through marriage or residence abroad. Significantly, intersectionality and multiple-discrimination is an important factor, with the gender discrimination in Nepal’s nationality law disproportionately impacting members of the Dalit community and those living in the Terai region.
The risk of childhood statelessness in the context of International Commercial Surrogacy (ICS) has reduced since this practice was completely banned in Nepal since September 2015. This ban results from a petition handed over the Supreme Court of Nepal stating that surrogacy exploited the bodies of poor females. Prior to this, ICS was allowed as long as it did not involve Nepali citizens (i.e. as surrogate mothers, donators of gametes, or as providers of any surrogacy service). This increased risks of statelessness as Nepal applies the jus sanguinis principle preventing conferral of nationality in this context. If the commissioning parent’s State of nationality or the surrogate mother’s State of nationality would not recognise the child, he or she will be stateless.
In 2014, when the first edition of World’s Stateless report was launched, Thailand had a stateless population of half a million persons, and was third on the list of countries with the largest known stateless populations in the world. Hill Tribe communities are the largest stateless group in the country, and some undocumented migrant workers are also at heightened risk of statelessness. While there are a few thousand Rohingya refugees in the country, they are not included in UNHCR’s statelessness statistical reporting. Through various initiatives, the government of Thailand has reduced the size of the known stateless population in the country to 443,862 by the end of 2015. Though a lot of work remains to be done to further reduce statelessness in the country, below are some updates of what has been done to date.
In recognition of the large numbers of irregular migrant workers, Thailand introduced a ‘Nationality Verification Registration’ scheme in 2006 as a way to regulate the status of migrants from Cambodia, Lao PDR and Myanmar. This was also designed as a tool to prevent statelessness among irregular migrant workers and their children. Irregular migrants who complete the Nationality Verification Registration receive identity documents which allow them to obtain temporary legal resident status in Thailand (which in turn makes them eligible to obtain a work permit). Having a regularised status is also the first step for children born to irregular migrants to obtain a legal status. However, according to several organisations working with stateless persons in these countries, this process can be a lengthy one and its efficiency or effectiveness has been difficult to assess. For example, many undocumented migrants in Thailand are unable to complete the nationality verification process due to practical barriers such as acquiring documents from their own countries (e.g. many migrant workers from Myanmar face challenges accessing documents from their own country). Also, stateless people still remain cautious and/or unwilling to participate in the nationality verification process due to fears of having to return to their country of origin.
Stateless people from the Hill Tribe communities have long not been recognised as Thai nationals, though they have been living in Thailand for generations. Thailand’s nationality law reforms in 2008 determined that those affected by the 1972 Declaration, i.e. anyone whose nationality was revoked by this or could not acquire nationality while this Declaration was in force (1972-1992), could acquire Thai nationality if they provide evidence of their birth, subsequent domicile status in Thailand and demonstrate good behaviour.
Other efforts to further reduce statelessness include the directive from Thailand’s Department of Provincial Administration to identify and issue legal status to eligible stateless students in Thailand who are recorded in the government’s database. The realisation of this directive may benefit up to 65,000 students.