Australian film star Cate Blanchett implored world leaders this week to end the “heartbreaking” limbo faced by millions of people who live with no nationality, labelling statelessness as a total waste of human potential.
The goodwill ambassador at UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, and two-time Oscar winner delivered her passionate speech Monday at the UNHCR's Executive Committee meeting at the United Nations in Geneva. The meeting was aimed at encouraging nations to ramp up efforts to eradicate statelessness by 2024 as part of a global campaign called #Ibelong.
"Stateless people are unseen and unheard. It’s a condition of invisibility, and it lurks in the margins and the shadows,” she said. “Apart from the moral responsibility we have to solve this problem, it’s such a waste of human capital.”
Statelessness refers to a person who does not have a nationality of any country. It can occur due to migration, unsound national citizenship laws, or discrimination based on ethnicity, gender, or religion.
The breakdown of nations and the emergence of new states can also see individuals caught in a legal stateless limbo.
Statelessness sees individuals politically and economically marginalized, with many often forbidden from receiving basic rights like education and health care. Stateless people are also often deprived of the right to marry, obtain a death certificate, or travel.
Because of a lack of documentation, stateless individuals can be excluded from jobs or opening bank accounts to receive loans. According to the UNHCR, this economic marginalization often sees individuals trapped in a cycle of poverty.
She didn’t “exist” for 3 decades. Then in 2018, everything changed.— UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency (@Refugees) October 7, 2019
One year later @MahaMamo shares a stage with Cate Blanchett, our Goodwill Ambassador.
She’s living proof of her message: we can #EndStatelessness. pic.twitter.com/9UCbDfPkNm
Following her speech, Blanchett then introduced and interviewed Maha Mamo, a woman who lived in Lebanon as a stateless person for three decades before becoming a Brazilian national in October 2018.
"It felt amazing [to receive citizenship]. It felt like a dream. It felt wow, I exist, finally. I have the freedom to choose wherever I want and to live the way I want. And do whatever I want,” Mamo explained. “But then suddenly it hits you, the reality, like you do all this for a paper. This single paper that people take for granted is my life.”
"[Statelessness] is not a political issue. It's not a religious issue. It's much more a humanitarian issue that could be solved simply by the goodwill of political people,” she added.
"#Statelessness has a devastating impact on millions of people around the world. They experience marginalisation and exclusion from cradle to grave ... It's total invisibility" says Cate Blanchett l #Humanitarian#Statelesshttps://t.co/QE2NOHb6J1— Thomson Reuters Foundation News (@TRF_Stories) October 7, 2019
It is estimated that there are 10 million stateless people in the world, although the exact figure is almost impossible to determine because, as UNHCR High Commissioner Filippo Grandi has long said, stateless individuals are often “quite invisible.”
According to SBS, Grandi announced at the meeting that thanks to the organization’s #IBelong campaign to end statelessness, the global number is dropping.
"There have been important achievements,” Grandi said, before explaining that over the past five years, 220,000 previously stateless individuals have received a nationality thanks to the concerted efforts of nations around the world.
Large groups of stateless people, however, still exist in Myanmar, Ivory Coast, Nepal, Kuwait, and Thailand, he explained.
"It is a man-made problem, and it is solvable," Blanchett announced toward the end of her speech, before urging all states to do their part and amend laws so the problem can be eradicated once and for all.
She finished: “States define citizenship and ... have the power to remove the roadblocks to citizenship for stateless people.”