The man with no country who nobody wants

Post Date: Jun 19th, 2011 | Categories: Advocacy | COMMENT

South China Morning Post, 19 June 2011, by Chris Ip

Stuck in Hong Kong, Michael, who lost his home and his nationality when he fled a war-torn country to make his way to Samoa, has become a stateless person – someone no country wants and who even the UN cannot help. After fleeing a former Soviet state, one man’s journey to the only place that would take him stalled in Hong Kong. Five years on, he’s still here, with no passport.

In the dead of night, without time to say goodbye to friends and family, and carrying only a backpack stuffed with clothes, Michael set off on a journey from his ex-Soviet state to Samoa. But soon after going through Kazakhstan, into Xinjiang and across China by train, he hit roadblocks in Hong Kong that have kept him stuck here for the last five years. While in Hong Kong, Michael received a presidential ordinance telling him he was no longer a citizen in the land of his birth. That made him stateless; a citizen of no country. Without a valid passport, or even a state that will claim him as its own, he cannot go home even if he wants to, let alone to any foreign country. Michael would not reveal his home country for fear of being identified, and his name has been changed.

Even before he was deemed stateless, the New Zealand and Australian governments refused to let him transit via their countries on his way to Samoa, the only country he could escape to without a visa. Coming from a war-torn and unstable country, they feared he might claim asylum. “I couldn’t go any farther and I couldn’t go back,” he says. Though he would not discuss the details of his departure out of fear for his family’s safety, he says he has been imprisoned, beaten and had his life threatened for his political views. Michael’s third quandary is still ongoing – trying to get recognised as stateless and hopefully getting some semblance of freedom with it. After over 20 appointments spanning three years with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which is mandated to protect stateless people, he was told his case was closed without explanation. “They never asked me how I left, why I left, what is my problem, how I feel, what kind of problems I have.”

Now he is pushing the Immigration Department to grant him protection, which they are required to do as Hong Kong is part of the 1954 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, a key agreement in setting rights for stateless people. So far, the government has told him that the certificate revoking his citizenship – with the signature of the state’s president – is “insufficient for drawing a conclusion” of statelessness. While the UNHCR can investigate a person’s identity and brand them stateless, they say it is up to the government to give them a new identity. “If the person is truly stateless then generally speaking the solution would be to gain nationality in the host country,” said Ambrose Chiu Chun-ki, assistant resettlement officer at the UNHCR. “Ultimately it is the state’s sovereign right to decide who’s theirs, but they do have an obligation under the 1954 convention.”

Stateless people in Hong Kong are few and far between. The UNHCR has only referred one case to the government in the past five years. However, Chiu said he knew of around three potential cases arising in the same time span, and Cosmo Beatson of NGO Vision First said he knew six other cases from areas like Palestine who could have stateless claims. The Security Bureau did not say how many stateless people had come to Hong Kong in time for print. Stateless people allegedly from Lesotho and Southeast Asia have previously received Hong Kong identity cards from the government. But only a new government will allow Michael to return to his country. “If things change the way I want – I need – I will go back. But I think it will take years, if not decades.”

Stateless and stuck in HK
Stateless and stuck in HK