The International Observatory on Statelessness


Statelessness exists throughout Asia. One of the most desperate populations is the Rohingya, a Muslim minority originating in Burma. Over 700,000 Rohinyga are denied citizenship and subject to human rights violations and religious persecution in Burma. Around one million live outside the country, many as refugees or illegal migrants in Bangladesh, Japan, Saudi Arabia, and Malaysia, where they are vulnerable to deportation and live in impoverished conditions. At least a half million persons of Indian origin are also effectively stateless in Burma. Close to one million hill tribe people in Thailand lack Thai citizenship because of unreasonably short filing deadlines or because, partly as a result of living in rural areas, they are unable to provide documentation of their birthplace or parentage. Children among the two million Burmese refugees or economic migrants in Thailand are ineligible for Thai or Burmese citizenship, rendering them stateless.

Persons of Chinese descent have also faced restrictions on citizenship rights in Indonesia (though the situation has improved in recent years), Korea, and in Vietnam. Tens of thousands of undocumented children of migrant parents in Sabah in eastern Malaysia are believed to be stateless and extremely vulnerable, particularly those whose parents have been deported. Lasting close to twenty years, the situation for over 100,000 Bhutanese refugees in Nepal is among the most protracted situations of statelessness, although the U.S. has recently agreed to resettle 60,000.

Positive developments have taken place in Bangladesh, where a 2008 High Court judgment confirmed the citizenship rights of most members of the Urdu-speaking community. Their status had been disputed since Bangladesh’s independence from Pakistan in 1971. In Sri Lanka, under a 2003 nationality law, over 200,000 Hill Tamils have reportedly received citizenship documentation. Nepal’s aggressive registration efforts have reduced a stateless population of 3.4 million to 800,000. Discrimination against women through nationality laws is waning in some countries, but serious obstacles remain.