Aiham al Saadi (1988), stateless
In 1948 Aiham’s grandfather fled from Palestine — present-day Israel — to Syria. His children and grandchildren — among them Aiham — have grown up and gone to school there. Aiham thinks that he is just like the Syrian children, until one day he hears that he is Palestinian, a refugee. As Palestinian refugees, Aiham and his family can live and work in Syria, but they cannot obtain a Syrian passport, cannot vote, and cannot leave the country.
When war breaks out in Syria in 2011, Aiham decides to flee. He is 24 years old. First he travels to Libya, and from there to Europe. On his arrival in the Netherlands, Aiham is registered as ‘stateless’. He receives a temporary residence permit for five years. When that is not extended, he cannot return to Syria, but he cannot travel to Israel either.
Situation in Palestine
For Jews, who had been persecuted in Europe, Russia and the Middle East for centuries, the founding of the state of Israel meant the creation of a safe homeland. But the birth of the Jewish state left many Palestinians stateless. Their homeland of Palestine no longer exists.
The late nineteenth century saw the emergence of the politics of Zionism: the aspiration among Jews to found their own state. Massacres of Jews in Eastern Europe and growing anti-Semitism in Western Europe enhanced the feeling that they could only be safe in their own homeland. In 1947 the United Nations, in part because of the murder of 6 million Jews during the Second World War, decided in favor of the creation of a Jewish and Palestinian state in Palestine. Both the Arab population of Palestine and the surrounding Arab countries strongly opposed this plan. One day after the Jewish leaders proclaimed the state of Israel on 14 May 1948, troops from Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Jordan and Libya invaded the newfound state: the first Arab-Israeli War had started. The Jewish armed forces held off the Arab invasion and proclaimed the state of Israel. Among Palestinians, the Israeli War of Independence is known as the Nakba, ‘the catastrophe’.
Over 700,000 Palestinians fled to neighboring countries and to areas not yet occupied by Israel. Some of them returned to their homes in present-day Israel in the years after the conflict, but most refugees ended up in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt and Iraq. Their descendants are also considered to be refugees. Their position has become much more difficult because many countries do not recognize Palestine as a country. Among them is the Netherlands, and most other countries in Western Europe. As a result, Palestinians and their descendants have been left stateless.
When you are born, you usually acquire the same nationality as your parents, or the nationality of the country in which you are born. But that does not apply to everybody. Some 10 to 15 million people around the world are stateless. Some of them did not receive a nationality at birth because their parents were stateless or did not register their children.
Others lost their nationality during their lifetime, for example as a result of war. And there are cases where governments discriminate against one section of the population and give them no nationality. If you are stateless, no country recognizes you as its citizen, which means that your human rights are unprotected.