A week ago I boarded a flight from D.C. to Amsterdam to head to the World Council of Churches’ Consultation on Statelessness and the First Global Forum on Statelessness, where participants from over 70 countries were present. We had booked a flight, made sure I had a place to stay, and I quickly packed, about two hours before leaving for the week-long trip. The organizers of the World Council of Churches’ Consultation on Statelessness knew I was coming but other than the airline and the hostel, the Netherlands was unaware of my imminent arrival as was the US of my departure. Though unannounced I sailed through passport control barely breaking my stride.
While as an Anabaptist/Church of the Brethren variety of Christian I am rather ambivalent concerning nationality and the notion of national identity, this ease of border crossing (and my presumption that they will let me back in upon arrival in D.C.) is a level of assurance that is, well, assuring. This is, however, far from universal experience.
The two conferences I have been attending, both the WCC’s consultation and the First Global Forum on Statelessness, deal with people on precisely the opposite end of the spectrum. It is estimated that there are more than 10 million people throughout the world who are stateless. By stateless we mean they are without a nationality and without the benefits that this typically confers. People can be de jure or de facto stateless. The former is when a person is legally without a nationality and the latter is when someone is unable to effectively establish nationality or whose nationality is either disputed or ineffective.
Some discussion around statelessness focuses on the lack of identity that people feel. It is in this part of the discussion that I feel some ambivalence. As a follower of Jesus, in whom “there is no Jew or Greek” and presumably no American, Canadian, or Nigerian, I hold that the nation-state is not the locus of identity. So while I don’t wish to undervalue people’s sense of displacement I find the lack of national identity as a less poignant concern of the many concerns bound up in statelessness.
Much discussion, however, focuses on those communities and individuals who suffer severely from neglect and active repression. At the WCC consultation we were visited by Imon Khan. He was part of the Rohyinga ethnic minority in Myanmar. In 1982 a change in citizenship laws rendered thousands of Rohyinga stateless. Iman was one of those who ended up in Bangladesh stateless. Eventually, after both parents died and someone convinced him that he would easily find a job in the Netherlands, he paid a smuggler to get him to Amsterdam.
Upon arrival he was alternately conned out of his money and pushed to the streets. When he visited the consultation, he wore a hat pulled low. In addition to telling his story he said he suffered from high blood pressure from the anxiety and uncertainty. Eventually, through the afternoon and evening he spent with the group, he removed his hat and began to relax. Upon leaving he said that this was the first time in his 26-year life that he felt like people had treated him like a human. While I don’t want to over analyze this brief encounter, it illustrates the double component of lack of identity and belonging, as well as the risk and deprivation that stateless persons experience.
In hopes of helping people like Imon, we drafted a statement affirming the the WCC’s 10th Assembly statement adopted last year on statelessness, and recommending ways in which we as member churches can begin or continue to address statelessness in our corners of the world. The statement we released set our theological commitments alongside the problem before moving on to concrete recommendations:
- “The underlying theological assumption of active concern for those who are suffering is the belief that all people created by God constitute an inextricable unity. Solidarity and compassion are virtues that all Christians are called to practice, regardless of their possessions, as signs of their Christian discipleship. Compassion and care for one another and acknowledging the image of God in all humanity is at the core of our Christian identity and an expression of Christian discipleship.”
- “These biblical and theological bases motivate us as churches and Christian bodies to express our Christian commitment and to be engaged in our prophetic witness to speak for the rights of those who are voiceless and marginalized as stateless people.”
-- Nate Hosler is director of the Church of the Brethren Office of Public Witness, based in Washington, D.C. Find the full statement from the consultation at www.oikoumene.org/en/press-centre/files/DENDOLDERRECOMMENDATIONS.pdf. Find a WCC release reporting on the First Global Forum on Statelessness at www.oikoumene.org/en/press-centre/news/church-voices-address-statelessness-at-the-hague-global-forum. This reflection was first published as a blog post. Find more reflections from the Office of Public Witness and how to sign up to receive blog posts by e-mail at http://blog.brethren.org/category/public-witness.
Source: 10/7/2014 Newsline