Despite the fact that the 1948 Universal Declaration on Human Rights insists that all people have a right to nationality, the United National High Commission for Refugees estimates that there are about 10 million stateless individuals in the world now.
As Semegnish Asfaw writes in her new World Council of Churches book The Invisible Among Us, "Statelessness is an anomaly of the modern state system and of the international legal framework developed over the last seven decades. It is about being vulnerable, defenseless. . .Statelessness is a silent, hidden and neglected tragedy of our modern times, disrupting the existence of millions of people and impacting on the lives of these individuals, their families and their communities."
And, Asfaw adds, it's something Christian churches should be working to alleviate in harmony with the religion's teachings to care for the poor and needy:
"The time is ripe for churches and the ecumenical family, in collaboration with other religious groups and all partners, to stand up and affirm the right of the voiceless, the marginalized, the forgotten, the stateless."
This is one of those nagging problems that gets precious little attention from the media or the public. And yet, at its core, statelessness severely limits what it means to be human. That is why faith communities should be leading the way in solving this dehumanizing problem. And Asfaw's book offers a series of steps that such groups can begin to take to make a difference.
The estimate of 10 million stateless people is, of course, just a guess: "It is difficult," Asfaw writes, "to accurately estimate the number of stateless people worldwide either because stateless people are hiding due to fear that the state will identify and persecute them, or because states are unable. . .or reluctant to include them in the national census."
High population centers for the stateless are in Asia, Africa, the Caribbean and Europe, she reports.
One solvable problem has to do with gender discrimination: "Twenty-seven countries in the world today do not allow women to confer nationality to their children on a equal basis with men," she writes.
One problem it may be too late to solve is that, as Asfaw writes, because of climate change "several low-lying islands, such as the Maldives, Kiribati and Tuvalu, risk completely disappearing in a few decades or even sooner. What will be the fate of entire populations who will be uprooted from their native land because their island has disappeared?"
This small book sets out the problem clearly and proposes some solutions that faith communities can help to implement. The option of doing nothing means saying to fellow humans that they don't matter.
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IS YOUR CHARITABLE GIVING WELL SPENT?
Lots of Christian ministries are asking for your donations this time of year. But how transparent are they about the way they spend their money? Religion News Service took this look at that question. The findings are a reminder to donate carefully.