This first edition of the Statelessness Encyclopedia of the Asia-Pacific is a culmination of almost two years of research and consultations that commenced in late 2020. Originally planned as an internal research project to inform NFA’s early organizational development and strategic planning, it was determined that the information gathered should be made public and accessible.

Through this original regional mapping project commenced in 2020 we aimed to:

  • Gain a broad understanding of the legal and administrative frameworks as they apply to citizenship regimes of all countries across the Asia-Pacific Region, and to begin to see the disjunct between these regimes on paper and in practice. 
  • Strengthening relationships with and gather a database of key stakeholders at national, regional and international levels, building on the network members of SNAP but ensuring that we expanded beyond our members to include new organizations especially those that were previously overlooked. 
  • Identifying good practices from which we could learn, and the needs of organizations and the gaps in the current work being undertaken.  
  • Identifying specific countries and contexts where NFA could focus on considering the scale of the problem in the region and the limited capacity of NFA.

Both qualitative and quantitative data was to be gathered through a combination of desk research, consultations and bilateral meetings.

  • Desk Research 

Commenced in December 2020 desk research was undertaken drawing on pre-existing research, reports and national mapping projects with the aim to review and summarise national and regional situation of statelessness, including communities, stakeholders, and a broad overview of legal and administrative frameworks. Through the desk research NFA has developed sub-regional reports which form the basis for this Encyclopedia.

  • Survey and consultations

In November 2020, Nationality for All launched a survey on ‘Advancing Rights and Protections for Stateless Populations, Refugees, and Communities with Precarious Legal Status’ drafted in collaboration with Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI) and Refugee Solidarity Network (RSN).  The survey aimed to gather information and connect to contacts across the region. We received 47 unique responses to the survey from respondents working across 14 different countries or regions being: Afghanistan, Australia, Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, International, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Southeast Asia, and Thailand. Following from the survey NFA coordinated four separate consultations in collaboration with OSJI and RSN. While each consultation had a specific thematic focus, all were part of a broader examination of good practice in the region, within the framework of ‘Advancing Rights and Protections for Stateless Populations, Refugees, and Communities with Precarious Legal Status’.

  • Bilateral Meeting and development of partnerships

Throughout 2021 NFA conducted a number of bilateral consultations with potential partner organization which were identified through the regional consultation series, former SNAP members or recommended by current contacts. NFA has met with over 30 potential partners based in a number of countries across the Asia-Pacific region including Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Nepal, Pakistan, and Thailand. As part of the NFA further collaborated on the COVID-19 CESF Impact report “Together We Can: The Covid-19 Impact on Stateless People & A Roadmap for Change”.

From the data gathered through this process, in the second half of 2021 sub-regional summaries covering Australasia, East Asia, Melanesia, Micronesia, Polynesia and South and Southeast Asia were drafted.

Through these summaries we aimed gather and analyze the available literature and reports regarding stateless communities and populations across the Asia-Pacific region. A crucial element of supporting this is a further understanding of statistics and data on the number and location of stateless population within the Asia-Pacific region. These reports compared ‘official’ populations number provided by states to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (‘UNHCR’) against other publicly available data of population numbers.

A comprehensive analysis of the legal frameworks of every country in the region was outside of the scope of the report. The reports covered the structure of the citizenship laws of each country in the region, specifically identifying forms of acquisition of citizenship, discriminatory elements and legal safeguards for foundlings and children born to stateless parent.  A summary of treaty ratification by each state is included including reservations by states to relevant articles concerning access to nationality and non-discrimination in nationality rights. Specifically, this summary covers the treaties and protocols regarding statelessness and refugees being the Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons (‘1954 Statelessness Convention’), Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness (‘1961 Statelessness Convention’), Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and the Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees (together the ‘Refugee Convention and Protocol’). Further the summary will also cover the key human rights treaties being the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (‘ICESCR’), International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (‘ICCPR’), International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (‘ICERD’), Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (‘CEDAW’), Convention on the Rights of the Child (‘CRC’).

Methodology of the Encyclopedia

In 2022 it was determined to utilise this internal mapping and sub-regional summaries to develop the SEAP.  The objectives of SEAP were defined as:

  • Provide an overview of the statelessness situation in the Asia Pacific region
  • Generate more attention on the statelessness problem in the region
  • Identify areas of collaboration among stakeholders and areas of further research on the issue

It was determined that SEAP would provide three substantive elements: a regional overview, sub-regional overviews (with regions defined as East Asia, the Pacific, South Asia and Southeast Asia), and country profiles for the 38 UN member states within the region.

Each element was comprised of four sections being:

  1. Laws
  2. Population
  3. Stakeholders
  4. Causes of Statelessness

A. Laws

  • Citizenship Law (jus sanguinis/jus soli)

All citizenship laws in the Asia-Pacific region operate through the principle of jus sanguinis, meaning that citizenship is derived via descent. The laws of eight of the 38 countries in the region additionally contain jus soli, or ‘birthright citizenship’ provisions which grant citizenship on the basis of birth on their territory (with differing limitations). Across Asia Bangladesh, Cambodia, Pakistan and Thailand’s citizenship laws include jus soli provisions. In the Pacific Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands and Tuvalu have limited provision for jus soli citizenship.

Of the 38 states in the region, jus sanguinis provisions in 19 states (Bangladesh, Cambodia, the Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Indonesia, Japan, the Maldives, the Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Thailand, Timor-Leste, Solomon Islands, South Korea, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu) provide that children born to a citizens parent gain citizenship, with there being no distinction based upon the location of birth. In 17 states (Afghanistan, Australia, Brunei, China, India, Kiribati, Laos, Malaysia, Mongolia, Nepal, New Zealand, North Korea, Samoa, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Vietnam) children are able to gain nationality when a parent is a citizens of the relevant country, however distinction is made between children born within our outside of the territory. The laws of two state (Bhutan and Myanmar) provide an automatic grant of citizenship where a child is born within our outside of the state to two citizen parents.

Differential treatment between persons classified as citizens by descent or citizens by birth, including limitations of citizens by descent to pass on citizens to children exist in (Nepal, New Zealand, Samoa, Singapore) in the region. Myanmar is the only state in the region that explicitly provides from differentiated categories of citizenship (outside of naturalized/non naturalized citizenship distinctions).

(Brunei and Myanmar) contain ethnic discriminatory provisions and limitations to their citizenship laws. The laws of one state (the Maldives) contains discriminatory provisions that limit access to citizenship on religious grounds.

The laws of four states (Brunei, Kiribati, Malaysia and Nepal) contain gender discriminatory provisions that inhibit the ability of women to confer nationality to their children on the same grounds as men. The citizenship law of one state (Singapore) contains gender discriminatory provisions which limit the ability of mothers to confer citizenship onto children born in the state whose fathers are diplomats or members of foreign forces during times of war. The laws of one state (the Maldives) may contain gender discriminatory provisions, however limited information is available. The laws of nine states (Bangladesh, Brunei, Kiribati, Malaysia, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines (for naturalized women only), Singapore  and Thailand) limit the ability of married women to confer their nationality onto foreign spouses on the same basis as men.

  • Treaty ratification status

Treaty ratification is varied and inconsistent across the Asia-Pacific. Only five of the 38 countries in the Asia-Pacific (Australia, Fiji, Kiribati, the Philippines and South Korea) have accessioned to the Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons (‘1954 Convention’), four of the 38 states (Australia, Kiribati, New Zealand and the Philippines) to the Convention on the reduction of Stateless Persons (‘1961 Convention’), and three to both treaties (Australia, Kiribati and the Philippines). The region sees a slightly higher rate of accession to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (‘Refugee Convention’), with 15 countries (Afghanistan, Australia, Cambodia, China, Fiji, Japan, Nauru, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Timor-Leste and Tuvalu) in the region having accessioned to the treaty and its 1967 Protocol.

The key human rights treaties generally see a higher rate of ratification across the region that the Statelessness and Refugee Conventions. There is universal accession of the Convention of the Rights of the Child (‘CRC’) (38 of 38 states), with Malaysia retaining a reservation in respect to article 7 which provides the right to a nationality. Near universal accession to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (‘CEDAW’) (36 of 38 states, Palau and Tonga being the two notable exceptions) exists in the region with three states (Brunei, Malaysia and South Korea) maintain reservation to article 9(2) which provides women with equal rights regarding the nationality of their children.

Over two thirds of the states have accessioned to the other relevant human rights treaties and covenants.  27 of 38 states are party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (‘ICCPR) (Afghanistan, Australia, Bangladesh, Cambodia, the Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, India, Indonesia, Japan, Kiribati, Laos, Maldives, Marshall Islands, Mongolia, Nepal, New Zealand, North Korea, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Samoa, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Timor-Leste, Vanuatu and Vietnam). 26 states are party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (‘ICESCR’) (Afghanistan, Australia, Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Fiji, India, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Maldives, Marshall Islands, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, North Korea, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Solomon Islands, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Timor-Leste and Vietnam). 26 states are also party to the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination(‘ICERD’) (Afghanistan, Australia, Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Fiji, India, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Maldives, Marshall islands, Mongolia, Nepal, New Zealand, North Korea, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Singapore, Solomon Islands, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Tonga and Vietnam).

The variance between levels of ratification is notable, two states (Australia and the Philippines) are party to all relevant conventions and three have near perfect ratification (Fiji, New Zealand and South Korea). Palau, Malaysia and Brunei can be seen to have the lowest levels of ratification. Palau has the lowest level of treaty accession of any state in the Asia-Pacific, only party to the CRC. Malaysia, while party to two conventions (the CRC and CEDAW) has reservations to the relevant articles that attain to citizenship. Brunei similarly is party to only to conventions (CRC and CEDAW) and retains reservations to one of those two conventions (CEDAW). 

B. Population

  • Reported stateless persons

The Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion (ISI) estimates that there are at least 15 million stateless people globally. UNHCR has recognized this issue noting that their own estimate of 4.3 million stateless people globally is likely far below the true figure noting that

[T]he global figure remains an undercount as data on stateless populations or those of undetermined nationality is missing or incomplete for many countries, including some with known stateless populations. The lack of reliable quantitative data continues to pose challenges to effectively address statelessness and advocate for solutions.

Noting these limitations, according to UNHCR’s Global Trends Report 2021, over half of the world’s 4.3 million stateless persons reside in the Asia-Pacific region. In 2021 over 2.3 million stateless persons were reported to UNHCR by countries in the region. Between 2020 and 2021 the number of reported stateless persons in the Asia-Pacific region increased by over 150,000 (151,872) from just under 2.2 million people. 

The distribution of the stateless population across the region is far from equal. The vast majority of the stateless population in the Asia Pacific are within South and Southeast Asia. Southeast Asia has the largest population of stateless persons with over 1.4 million people affected by statelessness in the sub-region (1,407,295). South Asia has the second biggest population accounting for almost 1 million people (939,542). East Asia (750) and the Pacific (7,837) have markedly smaller registered stateless populations.

The Asia-Pacific contains three of the five largest hosting countries globally — Bangladesh, Myanmar, and Thailand – which combined contain over 2 million stateless people. At the same time 18 of the 38 countries in the Asia-Pacific either reported no figures to the UNHCR or zero stateless persons in 2021 (Afghanistan, Bhutan, China, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Laos, Maldives, Marshall Islands, New Zealand, North Korea, Palau, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Timor-Leste, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu) with the majority of these countries (11 of 18) based within the Pacific.

Of the reported stateless population, 1.3 million persons are classified as in situ stateless persons, populations that have had multi-generational or long-term significant ties to their country of residence, with many having never left their country of birth. The largest population of in situ stateless people exist in states across Southeast Asia. This includes 600,000 ethnic Rohingya who remain in Myanmar, 561,527 people in Thailand (largely comprised of members of the ‘Hill Tribe’ communities), 75,000 persons of Vietnamese ethnicity in Cambodia, a population of 35,475 people in Vietnam (including members of the Hmong community and people of Cambodian heritage) and over 20,000 persons of Chinese heritage in Brunei.

UNHCR has specifically states that for six countries in the region (Afghanistan, Bhutan, China, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka) that they possess ‘information about stateless persons, but no reliable data’. It is notable that all bar one of these countries is situated within South Asia. Within these countries there are a number of identified stateless populations not included in the UNHCR reporting figures include the Lhostshampa of Bhutan, ethnic Bengalis and long-term Afghan refugees in Pakistan.

In East Asia and the Pacific there are no major groups of recognized in situ stateless population.

  • Persons at risk of statelessness

Ethnic minority groups across the Asia-Pacific — but largely within South and Southeast Asia — are at risk of statelessness due to discriminatory applications of citizenship laws, administrative barriers to gaining documentation and social exclusion. Notable populations include Khmer Krong communities in Cambodia, Hmong in Laos and Vietnam ethnic minority groups living in border regions of India, Dalit and Madheshi communities in Nepal and the sea-faring Sama Bajau in the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia.

  • Low rates of birth registration across a number of countries in the Pacific

Papua New Guinea has (13%), Vanuatu (43%), Tuvalu (50%) and Samoa (67%) — place some isolates and minority groups at risk of statelessness. Resident of many Pacific Island states may be seen at a hypothetical risk of statelessness due to state’s “disappearing” or becoming uninhabitable due to climate-induced sea level rises.

While all states in East Asia have high reported rates of birth registration between 90-100%, the central role played by household registration systems in evidencing citizenship places children of irregular migrants at risk of statelessness.

  •  Undetermined nationalities

Four states (Japan, Kiribati, Laos and Vanuatu) in the Asia-Pacific have publicly available English-language census data from the last 10 years that categorises foreign residents within the country as having “undetermined” or “unknow” nationality. Most notably in Japan’s 2020 census the nationality of 131,684 foreigners in Japan was categorised as “stateless and name of country not reported”. Smaller populations were recorded in the other three states — Kiribati (8), Laos (375), Vanuatu (27).

The citizenship status of a number of other groups across the region is unclear or unconfirmed. While reported figures of stateless populations may be low in East Asia, thousands of individuals have undetermined nationalities. China’s 2010 census showed that at least 13 million children lacked household registration (hukou) preventing them from accessing the full rights of citizens.The status of ethnic minority groups in both Japan and Mongolia remains uncertain. As many as 26,312 ethnic Koreans in Japan remain categorised as “citizens of the Korean Peninsula (Korea or Chōsen)” and hold the status of “special permanent residents”. In Mongolia, thousands of ethnic Kazakhs have faced administrative barriers to reacquiring citizenship, which they lost in the early 1990s.

In the Pacific as many as 10-15,000 West Papuan refugees have lived in Papua New Guinea for as long as three decades and have lost their Indonesian citizenship yet have been unable to access Papua New Guinean citizenship despite possessing the right to under the law of Papua New Guinea.

In South Asia, two major groups in India and Nepal hold uncertain citizenship statuses. In India the 2019 National Register of Citizens in Assam excluded over 1.9 million Assamese, leaving them labelled as foreigners and the validation of their citizenship at the hands of the foreigners’ tribunals. As of December 2021, 143,466 persons and another 123,829 cases remain pending before the tribunals. In Nepal, as many as 6.7 million people lack citizenship certificates. The UNHCR has noted that ‘while these individuals are not all necessarily stateless, UNHCR has been working closely with the Government of Nepal and partners to address this situation.

In Southeast Asia as many as 810,443 residents of Sabah are non-citizens. This group represents the largest and most notable population of undetermined nationality within Southeast Asia as disagreement exists as to whether this population are stateless or should be considered citizens of either the Philippines, Malaysia or Indonesia.

  • Stateless Refugees

Of the reported stateless population in the Asia-Pacific just over 1 million (1,051,620) are stateless refugees. Almost the entire reported population of stateless refugees are members of the Rohingya community from Myanmar, with the vast majority hosted in South Asian states. This is reflected by the fact that the entire reported stateless population in South Asia of almost 1 million persons, are stateless refugees. Bangladesh is by far the largest host country for stateless refugees, with over 900,000 Rohingya refugees within their borders.

The true scale of the Rohingya population within South Asia likely far exceeds reported figures. Estimates have placed the Rohingya population in India at 40,000 (twice the size of the reported 20,154 people) and as many as 400,000 Rohingya refugees have been estimated to reside in Pakistan (compared to the reported 47).

Southeast Asia is the sub-region hosting the second largest reported Rohingya population, with four countries (Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines and Thailand) reported populations to UNHCR in 2021. Malaysia hosts over 100,000 Rohingya refugees, the largest population with Southeast Asia and the second largest reported population of any state in the Asia-Pacific behind Bangladesh, while Indonesia (641), the Philippines (5) and Thailand (198) all reported comparatively small population groups.

All the reported stateless population in the Pacific (7,838) are stateless refugees, asylum seekers or, in the case of Australia persons in immigration detention (7,700). The populations of both Nauru (130) and Papua New Guinea (8) comprise entirely of Rohingya refugees.

Collectively states in East Asia only reported 16 statelessness refugees to the UNHCR in 2021, with the figures coming from two states, Japan (11) and South Korea (5). As a region East Asia has a small refugee population comparative to the other regions of Asia.

Other groups of refugees affected by statelessness include, as many as 73,404 Tibetan refugees and more than 92,000 Sri Lanka refugees in India, approximately 1.4 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan and 6,365 Bhutanese Lhostshampa refugees in Nepal, many of whom are stateless.

C. Stakeholders

  •  Former SNAP members

Approximately 200 former SNAP members operated from countries across the Asia-Pacific, with 0 being active members. Over half of these members (101) were based in countries within Southeast Asia, including 33 active members. The variance of connections across the region is notably, with high rates of SNAP membership in Malaysia, Myanmar and Thailand and notably low (or no) membership in states including Timor-Leste and Vietnam. While at least 50 former SNAP members were either based in or focused on statelessness in the Pacific, almost the entirety of these members were based within Australia (the exception being two based in New Zealand) and only seven members were active. 26 former SNAP members were based in South Asia, however 20 were active members. Ten former SNAP members were based in East Asia, with six being active members of the network.

East Asia:

  • Clarence, Taiwan Association for Human Rights (China)
  • Zita Jeng, Union of Undocumented Immigrants (Taiwan)(China)
  • Dr Guofu Liu, School of Law, Beijing Institute of Technology (China)
  • Wawine Yamashita, Japan Stateless Research Group (Japan)
  • Hajime Akiyama, Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (Japan)
  • Osamu Arakaki, International Christian University Japan (ICU) (Japan)

The Pacific (seven active members):

  • Anna Demant, Planet Wheeler Foundation (Australia)
  • Joanne Russell-Shears, Wilai Foundation (Australia)
  • Ramesh Kumar, Southern Migrant & Refugee Centre (Australia)
  • Harriot Beazley, University of Sunshine Coast (Australia)
  • Sara Davies, Centre for Governance and Public Policy, Griffith University (Australia)
  • Christoph Sperfeldt, Peter McMullin Centre (Australia)
  • Lenny Leerdam, DLA Piper (Australia)

South Asia (20 active members):

  • Chowdhury Abrar, Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit (RMMRU), University of Dhaka (Bangladesh)
  • Khalid Hussain, Council on Minorities (Bangladesh)
  • Hasan Mohammad, Al-Falah (Bangladesh)
  • Kamrun Nahar, Naripokkho (Bangladesh)
  • Manzoor Hasan, BRAC University (Bangladesh)
  • M. Parivelan, Tata Institute of Social Sciences (India)
  • Sanoj Rajan, Ansal University New Delhi (India)
  • Saud Tahir, Socio-Legal Information Centre (Human Rights Law Network)/ Refugee Rights Initiative (India)
  • Ravi Hemadri, Development and Justice Initiative (India)
  • Sabin Shrestha, Forum for Women Law and Development (Nepal)
  • Neetu Pokhare, Alliance on Social Dialogue (Nepal)
  • Kritagya Ra, Forum for Women Law and Development (Nepal)
  • Sanulal Maharjan, Center to Assist & Protect Child Rights (Nepal)
  • Imran Laghari, Human Rights Alliance (Pakistan)
  • Ali Ahmed Palh, RightsNow Pakistan (Pakistan)
  • Hina Tabassum, Children and Women’s Trust (Pakistan)
  • Syed Nadeem Farhat, Institute of Policy Studies (Pakistan)
  • Muhammad Haider Imtiaz, Aurat Foundation/ Faraz, Haider, Moazzam & Co. (Pakistan)
  • Ashok Xavier Gladston, Independent (Sri Lanka)
  • Nadine Vanniasinkam, International Centre for Ethnic Studies (Sri Lanka)

Southeast Asia

  • Denise Coghlan, Jesuit Refugee Service (Cambodia)
  • Butmao Sourn, Minority Rights Organisation (Cambodia)
  • Myrna Evora, Plan Indonesia
  • Clara Siagian, Puskapa, Univerity of Indonesia
  • Arif Rahmadi, Dompet Dhuafa (Indonesia)
  • Muhammad Noor, Rohingya Project (Malaysia)
  • Amanda Cheong, Princeton University (Malaysia)
  • Vivienne Chew, International Detention Coalition (Malaysia)
  • Jenifer Majalap, Pacos (Malaysia)
  • Eric Paulsen, ASEAN Representative (Malaysia)
  • Maalini Ramalo, DHRRA (Malaysia)
  • Shan, Asia Foundation (Malaysia)
  • Hartini Zainudin, UNICEF (Malaysia)
  • Rodziana binti Mohamed Razali, Islamic Science University of Malaysia
  • Saqib Munner Shekh, Rohingya Project (Malaysia)
  • Suu Chit (May Aye Thandar Kywe), Seagull Foundation (Myanmar)
  • Abdul Rasheed, Rohingya leader (Myanmar)
  • Myo Win, Smile Education and Development Foundation (Myanmar)
  • Mohamed Yunus, Rohingya leader (Myanmar)
  • Jose Maria Arraiza, Norwegian Refugee Council (Myanmar)
  • Yadana, Braveheart Foundation (Myanmar)
  • May Thiri Khin, Smile Education and Development Foundation (Myanmar)
  • Amihan Abueva, Child Rights Coalition Asia (Philippines)
  • Anne Maureen Manigbas, Ateneo Human Rights Centre (Philippines)
  • Marcy Carpizo, Director, Peace and Human Security Institute, Western Mindano State University (Philippines)
  • Quingrui Huang, ICVA (Thailand)
  • Srijula Yongstar, Heinrich Boell Foundation (Thailand)
  • Amy Smith, Fortify Rights (Thailand)
  • Helen Brunt, ICRC (Thailand)
  • Kreangkrai Chaimuangdee, The Life Skills Development Foundation (Thailand)
  • Sriprapha Petcharamesree, Human Rights and Peace Studies, Mahidol University (Thailand)
  • Chris Lewa, Arakan Project (Thailand)
  • Lalita Yawangsan, Adventist Development and Relief Agency (Thailand)

Current NFA partners

In East Asia NFA has one partner based in South Korea being Jeannie Kim, Duroo (association of Public Interest Law/Universal Birth Registration Network).

While overall NFA’s connections across the Pacific are minimal, as an organisation based in Australia, NFA has strong contacts within Australia, and a strong partnership with the Peter McMullin Centre on Statelessness.

In South Asia, NFA has continued to work with a number of organisations in Bangladesh (Council of Minorities), India (Development and Justice initiative (DAJI) and the Right to Nationality and Citizenship Network (R2NC)), Nepal (Citizenship Affected People’s Network Nepal) and Pakistan (Musawi and Imkaan Welfare Organisation).

In Southeast Asia NFA has partner based in Cambodia (Women Peace Makers), Indonesia (Human Rights Working Group), and Malaysia (Family Frontiers).

Across the Asia-Pacific NFA has partnered with the Global Campaign for Equal Nationality Rights and the Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion.

  •  Stateless and affected person led organizations and networks

Japan appears to be the only country within East Asia with a network of persons with lived experience, with the Japanese Stateless Network formed in 2009 and registered in 2011.

In Southeast Asia, Family Frontiers (formerly Foreign Spouses Support Group), operates as an organization led by Bina Ramanand, focused on advocacy and empowerment of persons affected by Malaysia’s gender discriminatory citizenship laws. Within and outside of Myanmar a number of organizations are led by lived-experience Rohingya activist including the Rohingya Project.

In South Asia the Council of Minorities, operates to promote the rights of minority populations within Bangladesh and is led by Khalid Hussain, a formerly stateless member of the Urdu-speaking community. Within Nepal the Citizenship Affected People’s Network Nepal is led by and comprised of persons affected by Nepal’s gender discriminatory citizenship laws, including organization President Dipti Gurung.

  • Organization’s with learned experience of statelessness

D.   Causes of Statelessness

  • Discriminatory nationality laws

Discriminatory nationality laws have primarily led to statelessness among population groups in South and Southeast Asia. The most conspicuous example of ethnic discrimination in nationality laws can be seen within Southeast Asian nations. Emblematic of this, is the citizenship laws of Myanmar that have rendered hundreds of thousands of ethnic Rohingya stateless. Population groups outside of Myanmar have also been deeply affected by ethnically discriminatory nationality laws, for example members of nine ethnic groups often referred to as ‘hill-tribe’ or ‘highland’ communities in Thailand have faced intergenerational statelessness due to discriminatory exclusion from citizenship laws. In Brunei, limitations of nationality to certain prescribed ethnic groups, or “indigenous groups of the Malay race” is the primary cause of statelessness among residents of Chinese heritage.

In South Asia, other ethnic minority groups have been historically impacted by discriminatory nationality laws which have either indirectly excluded population groups or ignored them entirely. This includes Urdu-speaking ‘Bihari’ in Bangladesh and the Mosuli and Jogi (or ‘Magat’) communities in Afghanistan. Statelessness among Muslim and ethnic minority populations in India — including persons excluded by the National Register of Citizens in Assam and Rohingya refugees —is further protracted by their discriminatory exclusion from the Citizenship Amendment Act 2019.

Gender discrimination in nationality laws has also played a fundamental role in creating statelessness in the region. In South Asia, Nepal’s gender discriminatory provisions restrict the ability of women to confer nationality onto their children and may have led to the statelessness of as many as 400-500,000 persons. In Southeast Asia, children born outside of Malaysia to Malaysian citizen mothers and foreign fathers, as well as children born in Malaysia to Malaysian fathers and foreign mothers in unrecognised marriage may have been rendered stateless through gender discriminatory provisions. While there has been extensive advocacy in recent years for the amendment of these provisions, available figures on the number of children affected are not available. While the laws of the Maldives containing religious discrimination (and potentially some gender discriminatory provisions), no statistics are available on the impact of these provisions on populations in the Maldives.

As previously mentioned, none of the citizenship laws of East Asian states have gender, ethnic or religiously discriminatory provisions. In the Pacific, Children born outside of the territory to mothers with Kiribati citizenship cannot access citizenship automatically. However, unlike other Pacific Island states, Kiribati has a small overseas population, with approximately 5,000 I-Kiribati’s living in New Zealand and Australia. There are no reliable statistics on the number of persons this provision has affected.

  •  Lack of legal safeguards

Legal safeguards against childhood statelessness including the protection of foundlings and children born to stateless parents are not universal across the Asia-Pacific region. The citizenship laws of less than half of the states in the region (15 states: Australia, Cambodia, Fiji, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Mongolia, New Zealand, North Korea, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Tuvalu and Vietnam) explicitly provide that foundling children will be considered citizens. The citizenships laws of 10 states (Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Kiribati, Malaysia, the Marshall Islands, Nepal, Pakistan, Thailand, Timor-Leste and Sri Lanka) provide some/limited protection for foundling children under their law. Under the laws of 13 states (Bhutan, Brunei, China, India, Federated States of Micronesia, the Maldives, Myanmar, Nauru, Palau, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu) there is no explicit protection for foundling children to gain citizenship.

Similarly, less than half of the states (13 states: Australia, China, Fiji, Indonesia, Japan, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, Nauru, New Zealand, North Korea, South Korea, Timor-Leste and Tuvalu) provide citizenship to children born on their territories who would otherwise be stateless. There is also limited protection provided under the laws of 10 states (Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Mongolia, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Thailand, Samoa and Vietnam) to stateless persons born on the territory. However, there is no protection under the laws of the remaining 14 states (Bhutan, Brunei, India, the Maldives, Federated States of Micronesia, Myanmar, Nepal, Palau, the Philippines, Singapore, the Solomon Islands, Sri Lanka, Tonga and Vanuatu).

  • Citizenship stripping

Citizenship stripping by states has wide ranging impacts across the Asia-Pacific region.

In East Asia, following the end of the Second World War, and Japan’s colonial rule over the Korean peninsula approximately 52,000 ethnic Koreans were stripped of Japanese citizenship. In 2021, more than 26,000 persons and their descendants have not resolved their citizenship status resolved.

In both Taiwan and South Korea, foreign spouses whose marriage is determined to be a ‘sham’ or ‘fraudulent’ have been stripped of their citizenship and rendered stateless (as both states have required the renunciation of one’s former nationality prior to gaining the nationality of their spouse). This has had implications for Southeast Asian states as the majority of marriage migrants in East Asia originate from Vietnam, and have returned to Vietnam stateless following relationship breakdowns.

In Southeast Asia (with implications in the Pacific), prior to amendment in 2006, under the citizenship laws of Indonesia persons residing outside of the territory for more than 5 years without registration were stripped of their Indonesian citizenship. This law is estimated to have affected an estimated 10-15,000 West Papuans in Papua New Guinea and at least 6,000 Indonesia migrants in the Philippines. While steps have been taken to resolve statelessness among these population groups, especially in the Philippines, thousand may remain stateless.

Within South Asia, members of ethnic Nepali communities known as ‘Lhotshampas’ living in the south of the country were stripped of their Bhutanese citizenship in the late 1980’s and expelled from the country with as many as 100,000 refugees arriving in Nepal during the 1990’s. Within India, the final National Register of citizenship published in 2019 excluded 1.9 million residents from the list – essentially stripping them of their citizenship. Persons excluded from the National Register of Citizens must in turn apply to the government or Foreigners Tribunal to have their citizenship status verified, with those unable to verify their status as citizens rendered stateless. In Sri Lanka, Hill Country Tamils were indirectly stripped of their citizenship at Sri Lankan independence in 1948.

  •  Statelessness and climate change

As a region, the Pacific faces some of the greatest risks and has seen the greatest attention regarding the threat of climate-induced statelessness. Kiribati, the Marshall Islands and Tuvalu as low-lying states are expected to be impacted to the greatest extent from climate-induced sea-level rise. The risk of statelessness from ‘disappearing states’ currently remains a hypothetical question, with most expert agreeing that this scenario will not inevitably lead to statelessness. Before any states ‘disappear’, the impacts of relocation and an increase in displaced populations on communities and individual’s nationality status will need to be faced. It is this displacement across borders rather than the ‘disappearance’ of islands that poses the greatest risk of statelessness in the future.

Less attention has been paid to the potential impacts of climate change on other regions in the Asia-Pacific.

  •  Administrative barriers

In East Asia, the central role played by household registration in verifying one’s citizenship and realizing the associated rights cannot be overstated. The impact of these systems on the realization of citizenship is specifically notable in China, Japan and South Korea among children of migrants, ethnic minority groups and those of uncertain nationalities.

Administrative barriers to nationality appear to be less prevalent in the Pacific region compared to areas such as East Asia where household registration plays a vital evidentiary role for citizenship, or South and Southeast Asia where exclusion from civil registration has been used as a tool of ethnic discrimination.

In South Asia, discriminatory administrative as well as practical barriers, have fundamentally limited the ability of women and minority groups in Afghanistan and Nepal to gain identity documentation and to confirm their status as citizens. Barriers to ethnic minority groups accessing birth registration and documentation has deeply affected populations in India and Pakistan. In the case of the ethnic Bengali population in Pakistan, such barriers have imbedded statelessness for hundreds of thousands of people across generations.

Notably, administrative and policy practice have led to the citizenship laws of Bangladesh shifting in application from jus soli to jus sanguinis in their application. This ‘paradigmatic policy shift has compounded intergenerational statelessness among children born in the country, especially among the estimated 75,000 children of Rohingya refugees.

The denial of civil registration documents and arbitrary and discriminatory applications of policy have played a key role in causing and compounding statelessness in Southeast Asia. For example, low birth registration rates and barriers to birth registration especially among children of migrant workers and communities living in poverty have placed as many as 50 million children in Indonesia at risk of statelessness. In the past decades the provision and withdrawal of civil registration documents has been complex, discriminatory and a key component of the persecution of the Rohingya population in Myanmar. Ethnic minority groups in Brunei, Cambodia, the Philippines and Vietnam have also face barriers to gaining civil registration and citizenship, with such barriers leading to protracted and intergenerational statelessness. Administrative and practical barriers to accessing birth registration has placed as many as 130,000 Sama Bajau (Bajut Laut) community members — who reside in the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia — at risk of statelessness.