Confronting statelessness with statistics | NRC

“They are invisible and cannot live a dignified life,” Sadiq Kwesi Boateng says of the stateless populations he has worked with over the past two years.

In Cote d’Ivoire and Kenya, where statisticians Boateng and Helge Brunborg have been deployed, some groups have been stateless for generations. Statelessness often affects whole communities and constitutes a significant barrier to development and democratic participation. It is sometimes a consequence of displacement, but can also be a driver as people flee in search of protection elsewhere. The causes of statelessness vary, but the most common are discrimination, lack of birth registration, conflict of nationality laws and changes to national borders.

“Stateless persons are often denied basic rights such as access to education, health and livelihood opportunities. They cannot marry legally, and in some countries, they cannot legally bury their dead. They are not allowed to move freely, vote, run for office, or open bank accounts or access loans due to lack of documentation,” says Wanja Munaita, an expert in statelessness at UNHCR.

Unknown scale

Lack of data is a significant challenge in addressing statelessness. Current statistics cover 3.7 million people in 78 countries, but UNHCR estimates that at least 10 million people are stateless worldwide. “Obtaining comprehensive data is important, it enables states to register and document those who live within their borders and better plan services for their population,” says Munaita.

NORCAP and Statistics Norway (SN) have worked together since 2010 to contribute to a better evidence base for policymaking and humanitarian action. In 2015 and 2016, we deployed Boateng and Brunborg, both SN staff members, to UNHCR in Kenya to improve the data on stateless people in the country.

Collecting data on stateless populations is often difficult because they live on the margins of society. Some estimates suggest that 20,000 people in Kenya have no official nationality, but our…

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