In 2005, Turkish lawmakers made it a crime to insult "Turkish identity." Selma Şevkli, a freelance reporter in Turkey, describes how the country has struggled to carve out a place for minorities and to define its "Türküm," or Turkishness.
There are more than 200 sovereign states that govern the 6.7 billion people in the world. But large groups of people have fallen through the cracks of international law and lack many of the benefits of belonging to a nation-state. Our Stateless to Statehood project explores the relationship between individuals, ethnic groups and states -- from the 12 million people without any citizenship to the tens of millions yearning to form entirely new nations. The project focuses on three groups:
- Citizens of nowhere - Every day, about 12 million people wake up as citizens of no nation at all. These men, women and children are scattered across six continents and excluded from virtually all the benefits of nationality -- a passport, the right to vote, land ownership, access to health care and legal employment. From Rohingyas in Myanmar to Nubians in Kenya and Haitians in the Dominican Republic, stateless individuals live without the protection and recognition of the government that rules the place where they live. On June 10, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the first-ever American legislation to recognize and reduce statelessness, which also addressed issues of global stability and security. The issue encompasses a tangle of nationalistic politics, ethnic discrimination and international human rights law.
- Refugees are victims of violent conflict who are unable or unwilling to return to their country of nationality. Currently, 16 million people are recognized by the United Nations High Commission on Refugees as refugees or asylum seekers. Palestinians, Iraqis, Afghanis and Somalis are the largest refugee groups currently living outside their countries of origin. Their country of nationality cannot protect them, and they typically rely on international bodies to provide them with aid and sufficient livelihood.
- State-seekers are groups striving for autonomy and national self-determination. They often view themselves as stateless peoples. Even though most of these groups have formal, legal ties to nation-states, they often seek to attain a state that will better serve their interests. While around 200 million people belong to groups seeking secession or greater autonomy, a small fraction are actively involved in these struggles. Kurds, Uyghurs, Tibetans and Basques are a few of the groups whose situations we explore.
"Stateless to Statehood" examines the root causes of statelessness in the post-colonial period, in the the aftermath of major wars and the break-up of empires. We're identifying potential ways to solve statelessness via legal and political avenues, as well as exploring the themes of nationalism and ethnic identity.
Stateless to Statehood
Adam Hussein Adam, project coordinator of the Open Society Initiative for East Africa, writes how his community's plight is largely unknown outside of Kenya. About 100,000 Nubians live in Kenya, brought by British colonialists to the area as soldiers from different parts of Sudan.
Jehangir "Jay" Irani served as a pilot in the U.S. Air Force for 10 years, flying missions throughout Iraq and Afghanistan. He comments on Kurds in northern Iraq laying claim to oil and gas revenues, recalling the time he transported his most famous passenger.
A vibrant and enterprising community of Tibetans lives in Ladakh, the easternmost area of the contested state of Jammu and Kashmir. Thousands of essentially stateless Tibetans have migrated westward to Ladakh since Chinese forces conquered Tibet in 1959.
Karen Zusman, an independent journalist, writes about one family caught up in the human trafficking of Burmese refugees on the Thai-Malaysian border.
Karen Zusman, an independent journalist, recently returned from Malaysia, where she reported on the plight of Burmese refugees trapped inside that country. Listen to the full audio documentary and view images from her travels.
Elaine Pearson, deputy director of the Asia division of Human Rights Watch, joins Martin Savidge to discuss the status of the Myanmar refugees in Malaysia and the problem of human trafficking in Asia.