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Stateless People Largely Ignored by the International Community

Eleven million people worldwide have no citizenship or effective nationality, according to a report released on Monday in Washington by the non-profit group Refugees International. The report calles on the United Nations and individual countries to take steps to reduce the problem.

Stateless people are defined as people without citizenship or a legal nationality. Political changes, discrimination, expulsion or a number of other reasons explain their status.

The author of the new report, Maureen Lynch, says, "It can mean not being able to vote, it might be meaning things like no access to healthcare, no access to even the most basic of education."

Ms. Lynch says these people continue to be largely ignored by the international community. In fact, she says the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has only two staffers devoted to the issue.

The report paid special attention to the Bedouin in the United Arab Emirates, the Roma in Europe and a group of people called the Bihari in Bangladesh. The Bihari were stripped of their citizenship after Bangladesh became a nation.

"Both Pakistan and Bangladesh have refused to offer the Bihari citizenship pretty much on the basis of political reasons. Pakistan might say, ‘It might affect the balance the ethno-geographical balance in our country.’ Bangladesh might say, ‘these individuals actually sided with Pakistan when we became independent and we're still reluctant to have these people as citizens’," says Ms. Lynch.

More than 250,000 Biharis have spent the last three decades living in squalid camps throughout Bangladesh. Ms. Lynch hopes this report will help raise awareness of the problems facing the Bihari and other stateless people throughout the world.