At least 750,000 people are stateless in West Africa, according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR),
According to the UNHCR estimates at least 10 million people are stateless worldwide. Lack of birth registration is the first step to statelessness for many children: some 230 million under-fives globally have never been registered, according to UNICEF. “It’s how societies first recognize and acknowledge a child’s identity and existence,” said Geeta Rao Gupta, UNICEF deputy executive director. West Africa suffers very low rates of birth registration: just 4 percent of infants are registered in Liberia; 16 percent in Chad, and 24 percent in Guinea-Bissau, making them among the world’s worst 10 performers. A significant proportion of West Africa’s three million double orphans (children with no living parent) are stateless, as are almost all of the region’s street children, known as talibés.
The overwhelming majority of stateless persons in West Africa are stateless within their own country, lacking proof of the criteria required to guarantee their nationality.
Statelessness can block people’s ability to access health care, education or any form of social security. Lack of official identification documents can mean a child enters into marriage, the labour market, or is conscripted into the armed forces, before the legal age. Statelessness can also render people void of protection from abuse. Denied the right to work or move, they risk moving into the invisible underclass. UNHCR’s West Africa protection officer, Kavita Brahmbhatt, gave the example of a group of stranded non-documented Sierra Leonean migrants living in the slums of Liberia’s capital, Monrovia, selling charcoal as they were too poor to do anything else, and too scared to return home for fear of being punished. “They became a member of Monrovia’s underclass,” she said. Statelessness not only stops people travelling across borders but restricts movement within countries such as Côte d’Ivoire or Mauritania, which are heavily check-pointed. Statelessness usually occurs because people cannot provide the necessary documentation to prove their identity when state laws exist. But in some cases the laws are simply too weak to impose or do not sufficiently help protect citizens’ rights.
“Nationality is not just a document; it affects all of your rights as a citizen. Without a nationality you’re invisible, you don’t exist...many people living in transit camps are from Mali, Senegal, Nigeria, but have no papers. “You can’t send them to a country where they will have no status,”