This paper will identify three groups of academia. Firstly, a theoretical philosophical approach by Hanna Arendt and Giorgio Agamben. Secondly, a group that consists of Bicocchi and Weissbrodt, and Collins elaborates on the academic work on statistical data and the problem of de facto statelessness. Finally, a third group consisting of Belton, Bicocchi, Bhabha & Matach, and Fekete which deals with the consequences of statelessness will be discussed.
Hannah Arendt and Giorgio Agamben are two scholars who have discussed the problematic definition of statelessness and its relation to human rights. They gave a theoretical philosophical approach to this definition. In 1951, Hannah Arendt wrote one of her most quoted phrases “the right to have rights”. With this quote, she summed up her notion of the concept of human rights. (Gessen, 2018). Human Rights should belong to every person by virtue of existence in theory. Hannah Arendt brought forward that in reality being a ‘person’ was not enough. To be guaranteed Human Rights, one must be a ‘citizen’ as well. (Arendt, 1958). She had perfectly summed up the problem of not being a citizen. If one is not a citizen and therefore ‘stateless’, a person is not guaranteed their human rights.
Following Arendt, Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben came up with a possible epistemological solution for this problem in 1998. Agamben had a close affinity to Hannah, and his work is highly inspired by her. In a letter, in 1970, a young Agamben even writes to Arendt to thank her for her work. (Wolters, 2013). This started a long correspondence between the two. Agamben attempted to redefine the word ‘citizen’ and is one of the leading figures in philosophy and radical political theory (Mills, 2019). Therefore, there can be argued that his work ‘homo saucer of 1998 gives philosophical insight on the answer to the problem. Agamben wrote about humanity’s ‘bare life’ and how this relates to one’s rights. In this work, he equates citizenship to birth. (Agamben, 1998). Reference is made to the 1789 Declaration of the rights of the man. Article 1 states “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” (Lillian Goldman Law Library, 2008). This would mean that ‘men’ is given rights by the mere fact of being born. However, the second article of the declaration of 1789 speaks of citizens of a nation and extents ‘rights’ exclusively to them. Agamben argues that the etymological origins of the word ‘nation’ define the nation by ‘birth’. Therefore, it is possible for rights to extend to everyone, even non-citizens. (Agamben, 1998).
In line with what Hannah Arendt and Giorgio Agamben wrote about the problematic definition, there is the problem of de facto statelessness. Weissbrodt & Collins’s argument about the definition of statelessness brings forward the problem of ‘de facto statelessness. They argue that the legal definition of the stateless leaves many people as not being registered as stateless but as an ‘unknown’ nationality. (Weissbrodt & Collins, 2006). In their article ‘The Human Rights of Stateless Persons’ published in the Human Rights Quarterly, a broad examination of the human rights of stateless persons is presented. (Weissbrodt & Collins, 2006). Their argument is that the definition laid down in the 1954 convention relating to the status of stateless persons is a purely legal description; the characteristics and value of a person’s nationality that differs from state to state is irrelevant to the definition. According to this definition, a person simply is or is not a citizen according to a state’s laws and court system. The argument of their article is that the definition of statelessness should be broadened to include de facto statelessness. (Weissbrodt & Collins, 2006).
In addition to this, Bicocchi and Weissbrodt, and Collins elaborate on the academic work on statistical data and the problem of de facto statelessness. Many academics point out issues with regard to statistical data on statelessness. In line with this, in the book ‘Children Without a State: A Global Human Rights Challenge’ Bicocchi points out that an issue is that there is no specific category for statelessness children in statistics about statelessness. (Bicocchi, 2011). The Dutch government’s database of Statistics, Statline, does not provide statistics where it separates people with an ‘unknown nationality, so de facto stateless, from persons that are identified as stateless. According to their latest data, there are 55621 people living in the Netherlands that are either de facto stateless or stateless. There is no specific category for children, but 31 percent is 20 years or younger and 9153 children are aged 10 or younger. (CBS, 2019). This confirms Bicocchi’s argument.
The third identified group consisting of Belton, Bicocchi, Bhabha & Matach, and Fekete deals with the consequences of statelessness. In Chapter 2 ‘Statelessness: A Matter of Human Rights’ Belton shows that many stateless people do not hold many international human rights as a result of their statelessness. For example, article 21 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights refers to having an indirect or direct involvement with regard to the formation of your government. Since stateless people are not part of any state, they cannot get involved. Then, Article 6 states that ‘‘Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law’’. (United Nations, 1948). Legal recognition is obtained through citizenship, which you need for traveling, claiming property, getting a bank account, or receiving a marriage license. The latter implies that also article 16 ‘‘the right to marry’’ is not available to the stateless. (Howard-Hassmann & Walton-Roberts, 2015).
Bhabha and Matache argue in their chapter ‘‘Are Children’s Rights to Citizenship Slippery or Slimy’’ that deportation of stateless children leads to psychological suffer. Their main argument is that a child’s environment has many life-lasting effects. Therefore, it is highly problematic that this environment is changed in a radical manner through deportation, because of, among other things, the problematic issue of statelessness and de facto statelessness. (Bhabha & Matache, 2015). In line with this, in the book ‘Children Without a State: A Global Human Rights Challenge’ Bicocchi writes about de facto statelessness. Here he confirms Bhabha and Matache’s argument and argues that deportation of stateless children also happens in Europe, while also stating that others are placed in detention facilities. (Bicocchi, 2011). Adding to these arguments, Fekete talks about the health implications and the psychological impact of these detention facilities on children. In her book ‘Detained: foreign children in Europe’, she mentions sleeplessness, weight loss, depression, and an undermining of the ability to learn as health implications. Psychological problems especially occur to children that have already been through a lot when arriving in a detention center with horrendous conditions. They can get retraumatized as the conditions remind them of past events, and in some cases, they even commit suicide. Therefore, she argues, it is problematic that there are no employees with knowledge on suicide present in these facilities. (Fekete, 2007). With regards to housing, there are no protective laws for stateless children and social housing is solely available to citizens. One common problem that Bicocchi identifies at all three issues, is that families are afraid of getting into trouble when trying to claim these rights, as they fear the authorities will act on their illegal status. (Bicocchi, 2011).