A 'stateless person' is someone who is not recognised as a national by any state. They therefore have no nationality or citizenship (terms used interchangeably in this issue) and are unprotected by national legislation, leaving them vulnerable in ways that most of us never have to consider. The possible consequences of statelessness are profound and touch on all aspects of life. It may not be possible to work legally, own property or open a bank account. Stateless people may be easy prey for exploitation as cheap labour. They are often not permitted to attend school or university, may be prohibited from getting married and may not be able to register births and deaths. Stateless people can neither vote nor access the national justice system.
As we are reminded by Mark Manly and Santhosh Persaud in their article in this issue, statelessness often means that leading a life like others in society is just not possible. Lacking access to the rights, services and legal documentation available to citizens, the world's stateless populations face unique challenges and require specialised responses from the international refugee regime as well as specific instruments for their protection.
We are grateful to Brad Blitz, Julia Harrington, Indira Goris, Sebastian Kohn, Mark Manly and Santhosh Persaud for their advice and support. We would also like to thank those agencies who generously provided funding for this particular issue: the US Department of State, Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM); the Open Society Justice Initiative; the European Union; the Statelessness Unit of UNHCR's Division of International Protection Services; and UNHCR's Africa Bureau. …