Non-decisionism and state violence across temporal and geopolitical space from Bhutan to the United States
Odessa Gonzalez Benson, Yoosun Park, Francis Tom Temprosa, and Dilli Gautam
The implications of statelessness at refugees’ end of life are profound, but socio-political exclusion in old age is rarely examined. Resettlement with a path to citizenship is considered a durable solution. But in this chapter, we interrogate a limit case: older monoglot refugees from Bhutan find themselves resettled yet stateless in the United States. This limit case illustrates how U.S. refugee law clashes with U.S. citizenship laws, specifically policies on language, to create the precarious – and permanent – situation of statelessness for older refugees, with no viable path of ever becoming U.S. citizens. We argue that the failure of the U.S. state to decide and act to make an exception in this case is a form of state violence, extending theories that draw upon Giorgio Agamben’s ‘state of exception’. Non-decisionism, as the philosophical reverse of decisionism, also constitutes state violence. Furthermore, we argue for linking the decisionism of the Bhutanese state some 30 years ago with the non-decisionism of the American state currently. Non-decisionism is not an anomaly but a rule, its existence across time and across a state’s territorial boundaries acknowledged. For the older monoglot Bhutanese refugees in the United States, it is a suspension of inclusion, rather than merely an effect of exclusion; they are caught in a violent cyclical suspension of hope and despair that they would be one day accommodated into a polity. The weight of state violence notwithstanding, contestations materialise in localised community efforts for resistance and redress, for dignity upon old age and death for stateless refugees.
Applying intersectionality to understand statelessness in Europe
Deirdre Brennan, Nina Murray, and Allison J. Petrozziello
This chapter argues for the usefulness of intersectional feminist analysis in statelessness work. It presents an introductory analysis of how a complex web of power, socio-cultural, disciplinary, interpersonal, hegemonic, and structural relations impact those affected by statelessness. The discussion is grounded in the experiences of multiply marginalised populations in Europe, such as Romani women and same-sex parents, as documented by the European Network on Statelessness. The authors contribute theoretical and practical expertise to move the sector towards a more nuanced understanding of the lived experiences of people affected by multiple forms of discrimination and statelessness, and what this means for policy advocacy in the short and longer term. By applying intersectionality, researchers and advocates can look inside categories, such as a minority group or ‘the stateless’, to understand differences in lived experiences and stitch together new understandings, policy solutions, and effective coalitions for change. In the longer term, intersectional thinking enables those coalitions to transform governance by dismantling exclusionary forms of citizenship which are rooted in patriarchy and institutionalised racism. The authors contend that starting from the lived experiences of stateless people, and asking the other question(s), can make a promising starting point in the political project of fulfilling multiply marginalised people’s human right to a nationality.
Citizenship choices among the stateless youth in Estonia
In 1991, just after the re-independence of Estonia, people who had held Soviet citizenship – then rendered stateless – constituted 32% of the population. In 2018, the proportion was 6%, meaning that approximately 77,000 individuals had not naturalised in 28 years. What is more, an additional 18,000 young stateless persons have been born and raised in Estonia in the same period. These people have had (and continue to have) the possibility to acquire Estonian citizenship through the naturalisation process. At the same time, they also have the option of rejecting it and living with an unidentified citizenship. Such a status sets some restrictions (such as lack of free movement within the European Union and lack of voting rights), but does not limit their everyday life to a substantial extent. The aim of this chapter is to explore the motivations of young stateless people in acquiring Estonian citizenship in the face of continued statelessness. Through secondary data analysis, combined with in-depth interviews with stateless young people, findings indicate that citizenship is not simply about a rational pursuit of state rights and benefits, but involves questions about belonging, nationalism, and legitimacy. While there are practical reasons for not acquiring citizenship, the stateless youth in Estonia have experienced overall exclusionary attitudes from the majority population and the state via national policies. Moreover, the citizenship process has proven to be so uncompromising that even people who have gone to Estonian schools, speak Estonian, and are integrated into Estonia have not always managed to naturalise.
Statelessness and citizenship fall along a fluid and unstable continuum that is formed, deployed, and maintained by an assemblage of administrative technologies and human actors. This includes: technological artefacts (such as birth certificates and other state-issued identification documents), technological infrastructures (such as internationally shared passenger name records for air travellers), and statutory and treaty instruments (such as citizenship laws and international treaties). Irregularities arising in such an assemblage lead to a troubling of citizenship or even outright statelessness. This chapter recognises that statelessness can be understood as a failure of the technology of citizenship. As such, it examines some of the ways in which birth certificates privilege a particular type of citizenship. This is a citizenship predicated on cisheterosexual norms. This has significant effects on the governance of citizenship. First, people born within a particular jurisdiction who do not comply with cisheterosexual norms may be barred from accessing full recognition of their citizenship. Second, these norms add barriers to potential or eventual citizenship for those who want or need to change jurisdictions. This chapter advocates a turn away from the fetishisation of birth certificates as they currently stand. It suggests instead the need for a reassessment and change in approaches to such technologies of citizenship and identification at both state and global levels.
Using norms to promote progress on the Global Action Plan to End Statelessness
This chapter explores how civil society organisations (CSOs) working to end statelessness use norm-based advocacy strategies to effect political and social change. In particular, it examines how they do this in relation to the Global Action Plan to End Statelessness (Action Plan). The CSOs of focus include local-level community groups, national and regional non-governmental organisations, and regional networks of individual experts. Highlighting specific examples from a content analysis of CSO documents, public statements, and discourse, the chapter analyses how CSOs attempt to ‘foreground’ and dismantle problematic social norms that relate to causes of statelessness. It observes that CSOs use two strategies – ‘normative reframing’ and ‘normative innovation’ – to advance alternative norms in their place. First, CSOs have used normative reframing to build momentum for change. That is, they have adopted a human rights framing for the discussion of Action 2 of the Action Plan (to ensure that no child is born stateless). This has taken a regional focus on Europe. Second, CSOs are currently using normative innovation. This is in order to advance a normative framework based on a combination of equality, inclusion, and anti-discrimination norms. The intention of this is to generate more progress on Action 3 (remove gender discrimination from nationality laws), an area that has seen less success than other areas. Although statelessness is the focus here, the conclusions of this research potentially hold relevance to civil society advocacy in other issue areas.
Brazilian hospitality’ refers to the continuous trend, in the last two decades, of a generous treatment by the Brazilian state towards asylum seekers. In regard to stateless persons, that ‘hospitality policy’ turned into law when in 2017 a new migratory act was approved. This created a statelessness determination procedure, unprecedented for a Latin American country, and a facilitated naturalisation process for stateless persons. This chapter tells the story of how Brazil addressed the risk of leaving thousands of stateless children abroad because of an inopportune constitutional amendment. Also, it shows how that recent legislative innovation has changed the game, turning the country into a reference in the continent regarding statelessness prevention and sheltering for stateless persons. The new legislation on statelessness in Brazil is part of a broader regional cooperation of Latin American countries on questions related to asylum, guided by the so-called ‘spirit of Cartagena’, referring to the milestone of the Cartagena Declaration of 1984. The Brazilian hospitality policy is discussed through the lens of the welcoming initiative inaugurated to receive Haitians fleeing from the 2010 earthquake, called ‘humanitarian visas’, as well as the activism carried out by Maha Mamo, a formerly stateless person who became internationally known for her struggle for citizenship recognition. Now a naturalised Brazilian citizen of Syrian origin, Mamo’s charisma turned her into a voice and human face for the millions of stateless persons in the world still in search of visibility and inclusion.
It is commonly believed that in order to address something, the first step is to measure it. This has been a common approach in efforts to address the challenges associated with statelessness. With the aim of gathering more reliable data on statelessness, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has launched a number of projects around the world intended to map the incidence of statelessness. Some of these have attempted to gather quantitative data. This chapter analyses methodological challenges involved in gathering quantitative data on statelessness. This includes ethical challenges associated with mapping projects in general, such as issues of privacy. It also includes specific ethical concerns that arise in the case of mapping politically vulnerable populations. There are also practical challenges. For example, the legal definition of a person as stateless is complex and often difficult to establish. This can lead to difficulties of consistency in data collection. This chapter presents reflections based on first-hand involvement in statelessness mapping projects. The chapter suggests that if mapping efforts continue, they need to address both the ethical and the practical challenges head-on.