Nationality as the glass ceiling of society

  • 24 January 2022
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Nationality as the glass ceiling of society
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This interview was recently published in the Austrian Südwind Magazin (Original Article)

We’re happy to share the English translation with you (translated via Enjoy the read! 



Christiana Bukalo is fighting for rights 


Everyone has the right to nationality - that's what the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 15, says. Christiana Bukalo, however, does not have one and is fighting to ensure that stateless people like her are given the same good life as other people.


In an interview you once said that statelessness is a reflection of the world. In what way?

Statelessness exists worldwide and is not visible. It can happen to any person. The spectrum of those affected is huge. But statelessness also reflects the difficulties we create for ourselves as human beings. The concept of nation states shows once again how much the focus is on exclusion and demarcation and how difficult inclusion still is for us.


When did you first become aware of your statelessness?

It was a journey of realisation. Citizenship itself is a construct. As a child, it is difficult to imagine statelessness. But I knew from an early age that we were in a particularly difficult situation. My parents were fighting for asylum at the time - and we had to overcome a lot of hurdles to be allowed to stay in Germany.

I only learned what the term meant when I was 18, because that was when my family first got a stateless person's identity card. The residence permit before that didn't say stateless, but XXX - that's the abbreviation for unclear nationality.


How does it feel for you today to be stateless?

For me, the much-cited glass ceiling describes very well how I feel. I was born in Germany, studied here, work here. I am socially engaged and politically interested. I see what could be possible and how I could help shape things - and I feel the glass ceiling above me. Without basic democratic rights and the corresponding documents, I will never really be able to be part of this country. This is the case for a lot of people who live here. An incredible amount of potential is lost if we cannot value diversity in this world.


You founded the platform in 2020. How did that come about?

It was triggered by a relatively traumatising experience a few years ago when I tried to travel. My first big trip was supposed to be to Morocco. I had previously researched the circumstances under which I was allowed to enter the country. Nevertheless, I was turned away at Marrakech airport because I would have needed an additional visa. I had to take the next flight back to Germany 20 hours later. It was the moment when I realised that the intransparency in which you find yourself as a stateless person makes it impossible for you to deal with the situation independently. On the way back, I thought about what I could do to ensure that this would never happen to anyone again.


Was there no place for stateless people where you could turn?

In my research after the failed trip to Morocco, I noticed that there was no central contact point for stateless people, but there were different organisations working on the issue. I didn't know that before. Nor that there are over ten million stateless people worldwide. I couldn't imagine that no one cared, when so many people are affected.

Besides, I had never met anyone who knew about the issue or was affected by it themselves.

Unfortunately, there is very little expertise in the legal field when it comes to statelessness. People often get wrong advice unknowingly.


And that is why it is so important to make statelessness visible?

There was a time when I was very ashamed of statelessness, even though I couldn't help it. I thought: for some reason I apparently don't have the right to have a nationality, although it is a human right. Our platform should live from the knowledge and experience of the people concerned.


You titled the platform "Statefree", which translates as stateless, not stateless. Why?

It has to do with the issue of shame - and I want to change this narrative. Because: stateless implies that I have a deficit or that I lack something that I should have. Clearly, we stateless people are victims of the system. But the vision is that stateless people nevertheless feel pride for what they are.  Currently we still use both terms because one must first understand the scope of statelessness in order to give space to a vision of statefreeness.


Does this mean that stateless people would not necessarily need citizenship if they had the same political and social rights as nationals?

For years, many organisations have been pursuing the demand: End statelessness! But: It will take a long time before we actually eliminate statelessness. In the meantime, we should finally give stateless people access to rights and documents. Citizenship is still the holy grail. If a government does not want every person to be able to naturalise, it must at least create circumstances so that those who are denied it can live just as good a life - and not have to strive for citizenship alone all their lives.


What is the goal of

It is still a very young project. We have developed a mixture of forum and social network and are currently testing the platform and features for data security. At the same time, we are currently expanding our network - especially our relationships with organisations worldwide. My hope is that it will become a collaborative place where people feel comfortable sharing experiences and learning from each other. But also lawyers and researchers should find access to information here.


Statelessness is a man-made phenomenon. Why does it take so long to eradicate it?

In the context of statelessness, we often talk about complexity. But these complex structures were actively created. There are definitely ways to also resolve this complexity and either create a structure where all people can participate in democracy or create a structure where there is no statelessness.

Interview by Christine Tragler

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