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Stateless persons in Asia and the Pacific

According to UNHCR statistics 40% of the identified stateless population of the world live in Asia and the Pacific. Many factors contribute to statelessness across the region, with some being particular to certain sub-regions. In South East Asia and South Asia, discriminatory laws, policies and practices on the basis of gender, race and religion have significantly contributed to statelessness.

The stateless Rohingya

The Rohingya have sought refuge in countries across the Asia Pacific region to escape the violence, marginalisation and persecution they face in Myanmar. The Rohingya are widely regarded as one of the most persecuted peoples in the world. It is estimated that between 1 million and 1.5 million Rohingya live in Myanmar, with the majority living in northern Rakhine State, which shares a border with Bangladesh. In 1982, Myanmar changed its nationality legislation to guarantee nationality by birth to members of 135 listed ethnic groups. This act entrenched the statelessness of the Rohingya and some other ethnic minorities living in the country.  

The Rohingya is one example of a stateless and persecuted group being displaced and forced to seek refuge in multiple countries. At the same time, forced migration can also cause statelessness. For instance, since being forcibly displaced during the Khmer Rouge regime in the 1970s, many ethnic Cambodians have lived in Vietnam for generations. Many of these ethnic Cambodians have lost their documentation or any proof of having lived in Cambodia. This has resulted in their loss of lawful residence and nationality. While some have since regained Cambodian citizenship, others remain stateless. Groups whose traditional lifestyles are based on travel across the contemporary borders of states are also vulnerable to statelessness. The Sama Dilaut, a migratory maritime people of Southeast Asia, are one such group who face acute discrimination and risk of statelessness .

Gender discrimination in nationality laws also cause statelessness in the region. While many countries have reformed their gender discriminatory nationality laws in the past 15 years, Nepal, Brunei Darussalam, and Malaysia continue to discriminate against women in their ability to confer nationality on their children or spouses. These are three of the 27 countries worldwide where mothers are unable to confer their nationality on equal grounds with men .

Across Central Asia, statelessness is mainly a consequence of ethnic-based discrimination in the aftermath of state succession. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, large numbers of people were left stateless in successor states across Central Asia (and Europe). A total of 280 million people had lost their citizenship, including a total of 60 million in Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. Since then, the vast majority of these people have received a nationality, but statelessness is still a significant problem, with Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan reportedly having large stateless populations.

As with other regions in the world, the issue of statelessness in Central Asia is not comprehensively mapped. In South East Asia, with the growing Rohingya refugee crisis, it becomes difficult to provide accurate statistics on statelessness in Myanmar and host countries to which they have fled. There is also a significant statistical gap, with very little information available on statelessness in large countries such as India and China. In recent years, more accurate baseline figures of stateless persons have been arrived at through mapping studies (e.g. in Tajikistan and parts of Malaysia). Below is an overview of countries, which according to available UNHCR statistics, have large stateless populations.

Table 3: Countries in the Asia Pacific with over 10,000 stateless persons









Brunei Darussalam










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