Stateless people cannot get travel passports or visas and are usually exempt from receiving social services, including education, banking, and health care.
How is it even possible to be stateless when everyone was born and probably living in a country? There are many reasons. In the rarest of instances, some people renounce their citizenship. Others are denied citizenship by their countries or just lose it after failing to meet some requirements. Then there is one special class of people who become stateless because their country no longer exists.
In 2008, Mike Gogulski walked into the US embassy in Slovakia and renounced his US citizenship. Thereafter, he burned his passport. Gogulski is not a citizen of another country. In fact, he is believed to be the only living person to have deliberately made himself stateless. The lack of a passport means that Gogulski cannot leave the European Union. A stateless person document issued to him by the government of Slovakia has become his de facto identity card, and his EU residency card doubles as his driver’s license.
Mehran Karimi Nasseri
Mehran Karimi Nasseri used to be an Iranian. Then Iran revoked his citizenship after he revolted against the shah of Iran in the 1970s. The Iranians didn’t stop there. They also exiled Nasseri from the country because they just didn’t want him hanging around. So Nasseri applied for asylum in several countries. Finally, Belgium granted his request. As per European Union rules, Nasseri’s refugee status allowed him to stay in any EU member state of his choice. He chose to stay in the UK. However, UK authorities denied him entry and deported him to France because he had lost the briefcase containing his identity documents. Because he had no papers, French did not allowed him in the country or didn‘t even deported him instead they left him to stay in the departure lounge of the airport from year 1985 to 2006.
He remained at the airport departure terminal until poor health forced him into a French hospital in 2006. He was allowed to legally live in Paris in 2008.
Born in Colombia, Eliana Rubashkyn used to be Luis Rubashkyn until he realized that he was intersex. That is, he had both male and female chromosomes. He underwent treatment to suppress his male hormones and activate his female hormones. The result was that he grew breasts and effectively became a she.
This became a problem after authorities of Taipei University, Taiwan, where she attended school, requested that she update her passport. Eliana decided to update her passport at the Colombian consulate in Hong Kong because Colombia had no consulate in Taiwan. Hong Kong airport authorities initially refused her entry because she was supposed to be a “he,” as stated on her passport. They finally allowed her in but without the passport. She was stuck in Hong Kong for several months during which she slept in the streets and in a shipping container.
The United Nations finally granted Eliana a “gender refugee” status, but this came with the unintended consequence of losing her Colombian citizenship. Most countries also denied her asylum. In 2014, New Zealand finally agreed to grant her asylum. But she remains stateless.
Muhammad Idrees is an unfortunate victim of the strained relationship between India and Pakistan. He spent 10 years in an Indian prison for overstaying his visa by just three days. Idrees was born in India but migrated to Pakistan after marriage. He became a Pakistani citizen and remained in the country until 1999 when he left to visit his sick father in India. His father died soon after his arrival, causing him to overstay his visa by three days. He approached Indian authorities for an extension, but they quickly detained him on suspicion of being a Pakistani spy. He was whisked off to prison where he remained for 10 years until a court freed him. They also fined him just $9.17 for overstaying his visa.
Idrees tried returning to Pakistan but was turned back because he was no longer considered a citizen. Pakistani authorities claimed that he had separated from his wife and been disowned by his family. The Pakistani passport he used to travel to India had also become useless since it expired way back in 2003, almost five years into his 10-year sentence. So he just remained stuck in India without a country to call his own.
Sze Chung Cheung
Sze Chung Cheung is the son of a Belgian mother and a Hong Kong father. Yet he is not a citizen of either country. He was born in Hong Kong and used to have Belgian citizenship, which he later lost. Apparently, Belgian law required its citizens born outside of Belgium to either live in the country between ages 18–28 or state their desire to remain Belgian citizens before age 28. He did not fulfill any of the requirements.
Frederick Ngubane says he is South African, but South Africa disagrees. Ngubane also claims that his deceased parents were South Africans. However, he lost his birth certificate, which would have proven his citizenship claim, when a taxi in which he was traveling was hijacked. Ngubane visited the South African consulate in Kenya and requested a South African visa. The consulate turned down his request and told him to visit Home Affairs in South Africa. Home Affairs was unwilling to issue him a visa because he had no evidence to prove that he was South African. They wouldn’t help him retrieve a copy of his birth certificate, either. Worse, they refused him a residency permit and the Kenyan, Ugandan, and Tanzanian consulates denied that he had ever gone to school in their countries.
Maha Mamo was born in Lebanon to Syrian parents. However, she and her two siblings are stateless. They are not considered Lebanese because their father wasn’t Lebanese as required by Lebanese law. They are not Syrians, either, because the Syrian government did not recognize the marriage between their Christian father and Muslim mother. Mamo and her siblings could not work or travel. They could not even get SIM cards. Luck came their way in 2014 when the Brazilian embassy in Lebanon provided them with humanitarian visas and travel documents.