Stories of those #LockedInLimbo
Stories of suffering and of great human cost gathered through research in six different countries point to small numbers of stateless people and those at risk of statelessness facing deeply damaging and unnecessary detention because their statelessness is invisible to authorities. Here are some of their stories.
Peter is in his late fifties. He came to the UK about 20 years ago from Nigeria and made several attempts to obtain legal status, all of which failed. Without this, he was not allowed to work and was convicted for working illegally. After serving his sentence he spent nine months in immigration detention while attempts were made to remove him. He had signed up to return voluntarily to Nigeria but the Nigerian High Commission refused to accept him as a national. As Peter was born near the border of Nigeria with Cameroon, the Home Office approached the Cameroonian embassy. However, Cameroon also refused to recognise him as their national, saying he was Nigerian. When Peter was released from detention, he refused to leave because he had no place to go and wanted to return to Nigeria. He was left in the streets with no support. He was then re-detained again for three months because the Home Office wanted to bring him to the Nigerian High Commission one more time but he was again not accepted as a national.
“Why did they hold me for seven years and gave me nothing?”Anton is a stateless person from the former USSR. He was held in immigration detention in Bulgaria for seven years. Over the years, he was told he would be deported, but he was never given any details about what the authorities were doing to affect his deportation. The only alternative to detention envisaged in Bulgarian law is daily reporting at a police station, but only those with a registered address in Bulgaria are eligible, which Anton did not have. He was finally released following an intervention by the Council of Europe and now lives undocumented in Bulgaria.
“The documents I do have tell me I’m of 'unknown nationality'. Officially I still don't exist”Angela is an ethnic Armenian from Azerbaijan. She fled to the Netherlands seeking asylum with her family in her early teens, but they were refused protection. Countless efforts to obtain new travel documents failed and both Armenia and Azerbaijan refused to facilitate their return. Angela was detained in 2012 during an attempt to forcibly remove her family, which had a huge emotional impact on her. A court ruled her detention unlawful and suspended forced return, but this did not end her limbo.
"They said, prove that you're stateless with documents. Once I showed them documents they said, a stateless persons wouldn't have these."Mohammed is a stateless Bidoon from Kuwait. He arrived in the Netherlands with a false passport, hoping to escape the utter exclusion faced by the Bidoon community in his home country. Despite his statelessness being well-established, Mohammed spent two months in detention at the border and a further eight months in a ‘freedom-restricting location’. It is unclear how his nationality status was recorded by the authorities and what procedures were in place to identify and monitor Mohammed’s suitability for detention.
"I am not a criminal. (...) This detention looks like criminal detention but I am not a criminal."Abdulla from Afghanistan arrived in Ukraine in his early twenties. He managed to cross the border into Slovakia and request asylum, but the Slovak border guards would only admit the families with children in the group. Single men, including Abdulla, were returned to Ukraine and detained. After a year in immigration detention, Abdulla was released with a temporary residence permit as he could not be removed to Afghanistan without a travel document. This temporary status entitled him to remain in Ukraine but did not give him the right to work or access welfare or healthcare services. Frustrated by the limbo he was facing he tried again to cross into the EU, but was again apprehended and detained. Abdulla remains in detention in Ukraine.
How on earth did they imagine a person crossing the border to get a passport without having one?Ivan is in his late forties and originally from the former USSR. He was born in what is now Uzbekistan. Fleeing the country in 1990, he drifted through several countries before arriving in the Netherlands. Ivan is not eligible for either Russian or Uzbek nationality. He is HIV positive, has chronic Hepatitis C and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. He has been in and out of immigration detention, losing nearly four years of his life to imprisonment, and lives in constant fear of being re-detained.
“I am aware of the fact that I am registered as stateless here but no one conducted a specific interview regarding that with me”Abigail was born in Nigeria. Her family is Muslim and Abigail is Christian, leading to divisions in the family. Abigail arrived in Ukraine on a student visa, but did not sign a contract with her university as the fees were expensive and she felt the facilities and teaching were poor. Abigail was detained while attempting to cross the border into the EU with an emergency Belgian travel document that allegedly contained false information about her date of birth. Neither the Nigerian nor the Belgian Embassies in Ukraine could confirm Abigail’s identity and she remains in detention.