043 | Christiana Bukalo | Living stateless
Who are you when no nation claims you? Millions of stateless people navigate life unrecognised by any country. They are the literal citizens of nowhere.
⏱ This is a 5-minute read.
Christiana Bukalo is not a migrant. She was born in Munich, Germany in a West African family. She still lives there. At 10 she obtained residency papers. At 16, a work permit. At 18, a travel document. But one document still evades her, at 27 – a passport.
Christiana is stateless. She is not recognised as a citizen either of the country of her birth or the country of her parents. She can’t vote and she’s not sure how she’ll ever be able to marry. Any task requiring proof of identity becomes an administrative maze. She fell in the cracks of conflicting notions of national identity and thus conflicting laws: Germany applies jus sanguini, blood-right citizenship based on ancestry, as opposed to jus soli, which grants citizenship based on location at birth such as in the United States. Though a 1961 UN convention prohibits countries from letting children born on their territory become stateless, in practice many still do. Ten to 15 million people are stateless today though because no one claims them, no one’s properly counting them either.
Christiana decided to speak up for them and bring them together. She’s building statefree.world, a platform where stateless people can find the information they so often lack and support one another. Read short excerpts of our conversation below or listen to the much fuller interview on the podcast.
[00:01:42] What is statelessness?
[00:04:51] Born in Germany but not German
[00:09:48] Turned around at the airport
[00:13:31] Creating a source of truth for stateless people
[00:15:24] How one falls through the nationality cracks...
[00:23:00] ... and other ways of becoming stateless
[00:26:06] Belonging and self-worth without a national identity
[00:32:04] Is citizenship owed or earned?
[00:35:34] How "passported" people can help
36 Dina Nayeri on the immigrant's gratitude
23 Selda Shamloo on passport privilege
41 Qian Julie Wang on growing up undocumented
Isabelle Roughol: How and when did you come to understand yourself as stateless?
Christiana Bukalo: It was a journey. The older I got, the more I became aware of the fact that something seemed to be off and it wasn’t just our migratory status. Something was a bit harder for us. We had to go through the asylum officers very often. We were often asked to leave the country. I did understand that I was born in Germany, but for some reason I was not considered to be German. But I didn't really understand what that concept was about because nationality is very abstract. It's something we constructed.
At some point, I noticed that whenever I wanted to register for things or use certain services, people would ask for my nationality. And I knew that I didn't have one. I try not to lie. I wouldn't just choose German in the dropdown menu. So I oftentimes just stopped. This is a constant barrier that is represented to you almost on a daily basis.
And then there was a personal incident that was actually pretty traumatising.
About two and a half years ago, I planned a trip to Morocco. As a stateless person, you don't take traveling for granted. So I tried to understand whether I was even allowed to enter the country. I couldn't find any information that was referring to stateless people. As I had been living in Germany forever and was born here, and my document was issued by a German authority, it felt reasonable in that moment to compare my situation to the situation of a person that has a German passport.
Germans were allowed to enter the country without any additional documents. So I flew to Marrakech and at the airport, I learned that I was not allowed to enter the country. I was forced to stay at the airport for 20 hours, until the next flight back to Germany left – not even to Munich, but to another German city.
I cried a lot. It was also the first time I really felt this upset about the situation. Before that I had a tendency to play it down. The only reason why I wasn't allowed into the country was because I didn't have a visa. And the only reason I didn't have a visa is because I didn't know that I needed one. If I’d been able to find the information, I would have of course applied for a visa.
What are some of the other ways that people become stateless?
One is nationality laws that discriminate against specific factors, which can be gender, ethnicity, and so forth. There are 25 countries which hinder women from passing nationality on to their children.
Statelessness is also inherited. In a case in which the mother is not able to pass the nationality onto the child and the child maybe doesn't have contact with the father, that person ends up a stateless child, might become a stateless adult and oftentimes would then have stateless children.
Your ability to attain citizenship can be tied to the different ethnic group you belong to. In Myanmar the Rohingya people, a Muslim ethnic group, have been denied their citizenship since 1982. Another reason can be historical and political context, meaning states or nation states that dissolve to some extent or are not recognised by other countries. People from Palestine often face the issue.
And then again bureaucracy. Sometimes there are cases in which they are recognised as stateless persons (de jure stateless) and cases in which they're not (de facto stateless). There's a huge level of arbitrariness, which makes it even harder to solve the issue.
How does it feel on a personal level, beyond the legal complexities, that no one nation is claiming you as one of her own?
It depends on the day you ask me. I don't really identify with a country as such. I often get asked whether I feel German and I often respond that I don't, which to some extent has to do with the fact that I have been rejected on a regular basis by the government. I appreciate the German culture and I appreciate everything that I learned here. I’ve lived here forever, so why not? I just don't have this national identity.
It's totally okay for me to not be part of a country, but what is not okay to me is that it then limits my access to basic human rights. Because for me to be able to access those rights, it should be enough for me to be a human. But apparently it's not.
Is the nation-state something you want to be part of or do you want some kind of non-national identity to be recognised?
I do have a non-national status, which is recognised in a sense, but it doesn't allow me to live life the way I want to live it. As soon as it's possible, I will definitely try to get German citizenship because I know that it's the most reasonable thing to protect myself.
In the past I had way more romantic feelings about it. A lot of the things I was doing were to some extent to prove my worthiness and value, to validate the fact that I am living in this country and would be worthy to attain the German nationality.
And this is, at least in my perspective right now, such an unhealthy narrative. When talking to other stateless people, all of us have internalised this feeling of not being worthy enough to be allowed to live free in the country the same way other people do. But we are human beings, and every one of us is worthy of this. We have just been unfortunate where others have been fortunate.
I think it's very important to be critical to some extent at least. At some point you just tie your self-worth to a system that is way bigger than you. And that strengthens this narrative of powerlessness, something that stateless people, if I can generalise, so often feel.
Transcripts are published for your convenience, but they are automated and not always cleaned up. Please excuses typos and occasional nonsense, and always check the audio before quoting.
[00:00:00] Christiana Bukalo: It's totally okay for me to not be part of a country, but what is not okay to me is that it then limits my access to basic human rights.
[00:00:10] Isabelle Roughol: Hi, I'm Isabelle and this is Borderline.
[00:00:19] First of all a quick message to you listeners. I'm very keen to hear from all of you, Borderline is going through some changes and I need your feedback. Don't hesitate to reach out and let me know what you like, what you don't like, what you want to hear or read from Borderline and for me. I'm at isa@Borderlinepod.com and on Twitter a lot as well at iroughol That's I R O U G H O L.
[00:00:44] Now for today's episode. We talk about national identity, a lot on here and how we feel about it and whether we have one or several, but imagine if you have none. None that you feel intimately and none on paper. And that's the story of my guest today, Christiana Bukalo. She lives in Munich, Germany. She was born there, but she's not German. Her parents moved there from West Africa. She doesn't say much more than not to protect their privacy, but suffice to say that their country did not grant their daughter citizenship either.
[00:01:16] Christiana is stateless and has become an advocate for others like her, who, she found out to her great surprise, are millions.
[00:01:24] Christiana Bukalo is the founder of Statefree, an upcoming platforms seeking to inform and connect stateless people. She was just a democracy fellow at the Alfred Landecker Foundation. She is wise beyond her 27 years and she is my guest today. Here is my conversation with Christiana Bukalo.
[00:01:42] What is statelessness?
[00:01:42] Isabelle Roughol: thank you so much for, uh, for joining Borderline. I'm thrilled to be talking to you today. I thought we should start by defining some terms for people to understand quite what we're talking about. So what does it mean to be stateless and how many people are we talking about?
[00:01:58] Christiana Bukalo: Yeah. Um, so officially the term statelessness is defined as, or rather let's say stateless people as such are defined as people who are not recognized as a citizen by any nation. That's how it is defined in the UN Convention on Statelessness and that then kind of by default means that they don't have a nationality or no citizenship and are therefore without state.
[00:02:25] Isabelle Roughol: So not recognized by,
[00:02:27] Christiana Bukalo: Yes.
[00:02:28] Isabelle Roughol: by any nation. And so how many people are we talking about?
[00:02:32] Christiana Bukalo: So the data topic in the context of statelessness is tough. Um, so there are different estimates. The highest is the one from the Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion. They estimate that there up to 15 million people worldwide, who are stateless. And there have been estimates by the United Nations also around 10 million people. The issue is that there are governments that report statelessness and then there are some that don't report numbers. And then again, also definition, although I've now shared the official definition, the way that this definition is interpreted, can sometimes vary according to the individual government.
[00:03:11] Isabelle Roughol: Um, what, do you mean by that? It sounds pretty straightforward, isn't it?
[00:03:15] Christiana Bukalo: Well, there's some things in this world that might be or could be straightforward. But then again, I think we, as human beings, we have a tendency to make things a bit more complicated, maybe with the intention actually of making it easier.
[00:03:29] And so one thing that creates an issue is that there is a difference between being defacto stateless or de jure stateless, which means that, um, there are cases in which the state, your statelessness, in terms of not having a nationality, is not yet legally recognized. So in such cases you might be without nationality and without any documents that might prove any kind of nationality, but you're also not yet in a position in which the government you're living in has actually recognized that you are without a citizenship.
[00:04:01] And for this issue, there have been different recommendations made actually to provide a so-called statelessness determination process, which is extremely important. But then again, um, not too many countries have yet implemented that statelessness determination process. in some cases, so what happens is that people who are not recognized as stateless yet, so defacto stateless but not de jure, they sometimes end up in this category of being, like having an undetermined nationality or unclear nationality. And sometimes those numbers are not counted the same ways, or actually not added to the number of people who are recognized as stateless.
[00:04:42] Isabelle Roughol: Right. So that's an even worse status that you're not even legally recognized as not being legally recognized.
[00:04:49] Christiana Bukalo: It's very much worse actually, yeah.
[00:04:51] Born in Germany but not German. Nothing else either
[00:04:51] Isabelle Roughol: Huhum. So let's talk about you a bit. How and when did you come to understand that status as stateless applied to you?
[00:05:01] Christiana Bukalo: It took a while, I'd say. So I'm today I'm 27 and it's hard actually to like name a clear point in time. I'd say it was a journey. So the older I got, the more I became aware of the fact that something seems to be off and it's not just our asylum status or migratory status.
[00:05:27] So the fact is that I was born in Germany. My parents came from West Africa to Germany, and then I was born in the country in Munich. And I was aware of the fact that something was a bit harder for us, especially in points or times in my life, which I got more in contact with other people like in school, um, where I was actually the only kid or one of the, yeah maybe let's say five kids in my class that had issues with that. Um, and I noticed that something was off also in terms of us having to go through the asylum officers very often, having to prove certain things. Also, at some point you start, like you learn how to read and then I guess that's something that a lot of people with migratory contexts are used to that they start translating letters for their parents..
[00:06:16] So at some point, I started to understand that there seems to be an issue with us being in this country and that we are often asked to actually leave the country. At that point I only kind of, I related that to the fact that we are apparently not German. So I did understand that I am born in Germany, but then again, for some reason I am not considered to be German.
[00:06:38] And I did understand that, but I didn't really understand what that concept was about because nationality is something that is very abstract. It's something we kind of constructed as human beings. So it's nothing that kind of grows with you.
[00:06:52] And, and at some point, when I tried to administer my life a bit more than I was forced to in the past, because my parents took care of the majority of my things, I noticed that whenever I wanted to register for things or whenever I wanted to use certain services that people would ask for my nationality. And I knew that I didn't have one.
[00:07:14] As I am a person for some weird reason, I just also often... Well, I dunno if it's weird, but I try not to lie. And I like to say ..., I wouldn't, I wouldn't just, just for the purpose of maybe signing up to a certain course, I wouldn't just choose, like, in this dropdown menu, then you don't often see, just choose the German nationality just because that's what gives me access to whatever I'm trying to get access to. So I then oftentimes just stopped actually.
[00:07:45] And, um, then there was a personal incident that was actually pretty traumatizing. And this incident then led to me actually researching the topic a bit more. So that's what I meant with journey. So I understood that there was something off. Then I kind of understood that I don't have a nationality, but I didn't understand that there are so many people affected. And the more you try to get ahead in life, you understand that this is like a constant barrier that is represented to you almost on a daily basis.
[00:08:13] Isabelle Roughol: Yeah. I mean, you mentioned menus. You wouldn't even think of that, but right, there are so many dropdown menus where you're asked to input your nationality in for like the silliest things. There's rarely a stateless option in there, is there?
[00:08:28] Christiana Bukalo: Um, so I have to say once I saw a stateless option. That was when I tried to travel somewhere and I don't remember where, so it was not the incident I was referring to, which I can go more into
[00:08:42] Isabelle Roughol: we'll talk about it in a minute.
[00:08:44] Christiana Bukalo: Uh, um, but it wasn't something else. And I don't even remember the airline, but they had the option of stateless in it. And that was surprising to me. And I tried it, selected it. And then, when then trying to board the plane, there was this issue because apparently the people working for the airline didn't understand what that option actually meant.
[00:09:08] Isabelle Roughol: Um,
[00:09:09] Christiana Bukalo: what ended up happening is that the plane waited for me, like I think 30 or 45 minutes even, while other people were trying to figure out whether or not I was allowed to now enter the plane, which was extremely uncomfortable for me.
[00:09:21] So, um, I guess the majority of people have made that experience of a plane like departing late. In that case, it was kind of my fault or I was at least, um, the issue that was trying to be solved. the thing is even in situations in which that option is offered or at least in the past, I guess that's already like maybe two or three years ago, it then again presents a new issue instead of actually supporting my situation.
[00:09:48] Isabelle Roughol:
[00:09:48] Turned around at the airport
[00:09:48] Isabelle Roughol: You mentioned you had a traumatizing experience that kind of brought it home for you, what it meant to be stateless. Can you tell me about that?
[00:09:57] Christiana Bukalo: Yeah. So about two and a half years ago, I planned a trip to Morocco. I was going alone, um, and also very much looking forward to it because as a person that didn't have a travel document until I turned 18, traveling to me is obviously always a very exciting, but also nerve-wracking experience.
[00:10:21] So I planned the trip and I was actually planning to stay for two weeks on my own, learning a bit more about the country and new culture and so fort, just what you do whenever you want to travel or what you're looking forward to. And prior to the trip, I also tried to understand a bit more in detail how exactly I would be allowed to enter the country.
[00:10:43] As a stateless person, you don't really take traveling for granted and you understand what kind of obstacles might appear on along the road. So I tried to understand whether I'm even allowed to enter the country. And what happened is that I couldn't find any information that was referring to stateless people. And as I had been living in Germany forever and was born here, and my document was issued by a German authority, I was pretty sure that, or at least it felt in that moment just also rational to compare my situation, or reasonable to compare my situation to the situation of a person that has a German passport.
[00:11:23] And I then learned that Germans were allowed to enter the country without any additional documents. So I flew to Marrakech and unfortunately, when actually arriving at the airport, I learned about the fact that I was not allowed to enter the country, which meant that I was actually forced to stay at the airport for various hours, up to 20 hours actually, until the next flight back to Germany left. And unfortunately there was not a flight back to Munich, but to another German city. And in that moment, so I would say those 20 hours, apart from the fact that I actually cried a lot, it was also kind of the first time I really felt this upset about the situation.
[00:12:06] I have to say that before that I had the tendency to play it down, uh, because just also, I guess that's also something that my parents made sure that we have a attitude that is more grateful. So I tend to just focus on the things that I have and the opportunities I have in life instead of focusing on the parts that maybe are not working as well.
[00:12:33] So that was the first time I really realized how hurtful the situation actually is and how hard it is also for a person to deal with the situation because the only reason why I wasn't allowed into the country was because I didn't have a visa. And the only reason I didn't have a visa is because I didn't know that I would have needed one. So if I would have been able to find the information I would have, of course, applied for a visa and I wouldn't, I wouldn't have decided to go there without having one.
[00:13:01] Um, so that was very annoying and actually on thestartedway back, I cited researching like that's when the, probably the 10th or so research journey on the topic of statelessness started. But this time I just stayed a bit more persistent. And it took a lot of time actually and a lot of efforts. So it took me like 1, 2, 3, 4, maybe months to really understand the scale of the topic. And then also to get in contact with people who knew a bit more about it.
[00:13:31] Creating a source of truth for stateless people
[00:13:31] Isabelle Roughol: Um, and that's where your project Statefree was born.
[00:13:34] Christiana Bukalo: Um, yeah, so I'd say it in this case also was a journey. So I definitely didn't have the idea of creating anything around the topic. Also I have to say that my mindset back then was I just wanted to focus on the good things in life, and I really don't want my life to evolve around a deficit I am experiencing.
[00:13:56] So, um, my initial intention was actually to find a, I always call it a source of truth because what I was missing was the information. And in that situation, I was just convinced that there needs ... like was just what I was thinking. I was thinking, okay, somebody came up with this, somebody came up with statelessness and all of this. So there needs to be a person or an institution that knows all there is to know about the situation.
[00:14:21] And in my imagination back then, I was thinking that this person or this organization maybe doesn't know how to actually distribute the information in a way that it is accessible to everyone who needs it. And so I was actually trying to find that organization and then help them to maybe digitalize their information and make it more accessible.
[00:14:41] Unfortunately, I noticed that there is no source of truth. And what I did notice was that there are different organizations, which was good, but then it was confusing because I, as a person who was affected, didn't even know about it. And that's when I kind of noticed this gap of communication and felt that instead of just recreating and replicating content that is already available, it would make way more sense to actually have a space in which all of this is collected in a sense by just gathering all of the people that have the expertise. Expertise in terms of the experience of it, in terms of experiencing statelessness and being stateless and also expertise in terms of having dealt with it in the legal or political context.
[00:15:24] How one falls through the nationality cracks...
[00:15:24] Isabelle Roughol: Cause as you mentioned, it's not exactly that someone came up with statelessness. It's like an absence of something, right? It's a, it's a falling in the gaps. Can you explain how it can be that you're in Germany, but you're not German and you also don't have the nationality your parents.
[00:15:42] Christiana Bukalo: Yeah. So one of the main, maybe not the main reason, because there's so many, uh, there's so many reasons for statelessness. But one is definitely those conflicting laws and gaps that are then created.
[00:15:56] So as a person that is born in a country in which you are not able to attain nationality by simply being born there... Often it's called jus soli. So for example, in the U S, you just get the citizenship by being born on the territory. In Germany there is a very light version of that, and that was introduced in 2000. So I was born in 1994. Um, so that didn't apply for me, but it wouldn't have applied to me anyways, because there are certain requirements actually, um, that my parents didn't meet at that time anyways.
[00:16:32] And, um, so in Germany, you inherit nationality from your parents. And if there's no way for you to obtain the nationality of your parents, that was the case in my case, um, then you just end up with none. And what also happens is that this is kind of, say underscored by different through bureaucracy. So I guess
[00:16:56] now there's way more knowledge on all of this. But if you look at the administrative side of things, in my case, for example, what happened is that we were categorized as ~"~undetermined.~"~ and this is for example, a status especially in the context of childhood statelessness, in which I as a person kind of suffer under circumstances that I didn't create. Because my parents didn't have sufficient documents to prove their identity, and then I was born and then a person in the registry simply decided that my status is unclear.
[00:17:29] And this is actually a status that is supposed to be temporary, but in my case, that status was actually my status until I was 25. So that's actually way too long. And currently this is something that is very often emphasized also in the sector of statelessness is that it's really important to end childhood statelessness as fast as possible because at some point – and that's the situation my case – those children grow up to be adults. And then they're just stateless as adults and are in a situation like I'm in, it's called in-situ statelessness. So I'm a person that is stateless although I don't have a, I have maybe migratory context in terms of my parents having migrated to Germany, but I myself wasn't even able to move outside of the country until I turned 18.
[00:18:16] Isabelle Roughol: Right. And you are not an immigrant. You are a child of immigrant.
[00:18:19] Christiana Bukalo: Yeah.
[00:18:20] Isabelle Roughol: Um, For people who haven't experienced this, it's hard to kind of wrap your mind around. It sounds like it's hard for people who are experiencing it. Um, so you have, you know, you have legal residency and work rights, correct, in, in Germany. there's not a, there's not a situation of unauthorized migration or anything like that. It's, it's a whole other, it's a whole other category.
[00:18:44] Christiana Bukalo: Yeah. So in my case, yes. And I'd say, meanwhile, I have work permits and legal residency. So my residency was always legal in that sense, but there were different phases I'd say. And those things are very much intertwined. Um, there is often this context, but it doesn't need to be, and it also depends on how the status progresses.
[00:19:10] So in our case, my parents just were extremely determined on finding a way for us – by us I mean, me and my sisters – to be able to stay in this country and receive the education and so forth. So we focused a lot on this part of our situation, which means our migratory or actually residence in Germany and how we would at some point get a permit. That was the main focus. It was never so much on the topic of nationality.
[00:19:40] And I guess also, because the knowledge of my parents. Oftentimes people become stateless before even knowing that something like that exists, right? So, there are cases in which that is very much intertwined, but in my case, I do have a work allowance. I now also have a travel document. The only things that are still complicated for me, or complicated is maybe not the right term, it's just not allowed. I can't vote. Um, that's something that is annoying, especially this year, as we have the federal elections in Germany. And, um, I simply always have issues whenever I want to register for things.
[00:20:19] So whenever I need to verify my identity, that just poses an issue. Before that issues were not being able to fly. Um, I didn't know how to actually register to the university I wanted to go to it and so forth. So yeah, it's complex.
[00:20:36] Isabelle Roughol: Yeah. Yeah. And, and still your family had the educational, financial resources to navigate this, which I imagine isn't the case of every stateless person.
[00:20:49] Christiana Bukalo: Yeah. So I have to say I'm extremely surprised at how my parents were actually able to do all of this because, um, we're definitely not rich and there, we had a lot of support, so a really great support system of people who were just very keen to make sure that somebody takes care of us and that it be in terms of legal consultancy or other issues.
[00:21:18] And it is very expensive. I, myself, I'm now trying to find a new lawyer also to get more, um, information on whether or not I will be able to naturalize already maybe.
[00:21:30] that's also an issue that oftentimes lawyers don't have the necessary expertise on the topic. And I have been getting opinions on my situation right now. So I'm searching for a new one and I already have an appointment scheduled for next week and just hearing the fee, because so far it was always my parents who paid for this. And I, I had a job. I have a job. And so now I'm able to pay for this. But I'm thinking of other people it's just very hard to grasp how they would be able to deal with all of this on their own.
[00:22:06] Isabelle Roughol: We'll be right back.
[00:22:07] Isabelle Roughol: Hey, it's Isabelle. I'm not going to bug you to support Borderline financially for awhile. I mean, you can, I won't say no. It's at Borderline pod.com/subscribe, and it really helps out. But really, really what Borderline needs right now is a bigger audience, a much bigger audience, a free audience. You can help by sharing the podcast with your friends.
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[00:22:57] And now let's get back to our episode.
[00:23:00] ... and other ways of becoming stateless
[00:23:00] Isabelle Roughol: You mentioned there are many ways that people can become stateless. And yours is one, which is conflicting legislation at the moment of your birth. What are some of the other ways that people become stateless?
[00:23:13] Christiana Bukalo: Um, one very unfortunate case, for example, or a reason let's call it that, is just nationality laws that discriminate against specific factors, um, which can be gender, ethnicity, and so forth. So there are 25 countries which hinder women from passing nationality on to their children.
[00:23:33] And those are things that just because.... The thing is with statelessness, it's also something that is inherited. So in the case, in which the mother is not able to pass the nationality onto the child and the child maybe doesn't have contact with the father or the father doesn't want to recognize as his, they're issues in which that person ends up stateless as a stateless child, and some point might become a stateless adult and, um, in those cases...
[00:24:07] Isabelle Roughol: have stateless children.
[00:24:09] Christiana Bukalo: So yeah. Oftentimes, depending on the nationality law of the country the person is in, oftentimes that person would then have stateless children also.
[00:24:20] Isabelle Roughol: So that's, that's one way, discrimination against women, against ethnicities, I guess that in some aren't recognized.
[00:24:27] Christiana Bukalo: Yes, there are some, so there are laws in which your ability to attain citizenship is tied to the different ethnic group you belong to. And so there's one huge case, actually, in Myanmar: the Rohingya people, they're a Muslim ethnic group, and they have been denied their actual citizenship since 1982, just by not listing them as a group on the lists that actually list all of the ethnic groups that would be allowed to attain nationality for Myanmar. And that's a huge case also.
[00:25:01] Another reason can also be just historical political context, meaning states or nation states that dissolve to some extent or are not recognized also by other countries. So people from Palestine often face the issue that they end up stateless or being categorized as stateless whenever they new country.
[00:25:21] And then again bureaucracy. Sometimes there are cases in which they are recognized as stateless persons and then there are cases in which they're not recognized as stateless persons. And oftentimes there's a huge level of arbitrariness, which even makes it harder to solve the issue.
[00:25:42] Isabelle Roughol: Sorry, that just sounds like,
[00:25:44] Christiana Bukalo: Yeah.
[00:25:45] Isabelle Roughol: sounds like an unbelievable headache. I wonder how it feels on a personal level, beyond the legal complexities that essentially no one nation, no one country is claiming you as one of her own.
[00:26:06] Belonging and self-worth without a national identity
[00:26:06] Christiana Bukalo: Um, I'd say it depends on the day you ask me.
[00:26:12] So in general, I have to say that especially as a younger child, I was not too upset about the fact that I don't have a nationality. Um, also because I don't, I'm just as a don't really identify with a country as such.
[00:26:29] I often get asked whether I feel German and I often respond that I don't, which to some extent has with the fact that I have been rejected on a regular basis by the government, but then again, it also is, it's just that I appreciate the German culture and I appreciate everything that I learned here. lived here forever, so why not? But then again, I just don't have this national identity.
[00:26:57] So, this just also like, as a child it also meant to me that it's totally okay for me to not be part of a country, but what is not okay to me is that it then limits my access to basic human rights. Because for me to be able to access those rights or to enjoy those rights, it should be enough for me to be a human, but apparently it's not.
[00:27:20] So what happens is that, of course it feels extremely... so it is often there's this mixture of disappointment, I guess also, and... Anger actually not too much, but then in some like individual instances, for example, the Morocco case was definitely a situtation in which I felt a lot of anger because I was confronted with the fact that I'm just simply not provided with the means that will allow me to at least deal with the situation.
[00:27:50] But I'd say the main sentiment is actually disappointment because soon as I realized are many people who are affected, it became very clear to me that this is just a topic that is ignored. Because before that felt that we were probably the only ones. I guess I thought that they were maybe like 10 stateless people on this world, because felt like if there would be more, people would at some point actually solve those issues.
[00:28:17] Now, understanding there are millions of people who are affected and a lack of political will maybe in some cases, and maybe it's not so much the political will, but also like resources or the necessary knowledge to solve the issue, um, is disappointing to some extent.
[00:28:35] Isabelle Roughol: Do you to feel associated with a nation? I'm trying to think about... because the nation state is still kind much the organizing principle of, you know, our identities, political discourse, our kind of everything. I mean, it's from the 19th century, but we're holding onto it
[00:28:56] Christiana Bukalo: Yes.
[00:28:56] Isabelle Roughol: at the moment. fact, we're holding onto it more and more, it seems. You know, there was a period there where we might've been a bit more transnational. It doesn't feel like it's the case So is this something you want to be part of or do you want some kind of non national, transnational identity for yourself to be recognized? If that makes sense.
[00:29:22] Christiana Bukalo: This is such a hard question because it's so hypothetical because currently I do have a non-national status, which is recognized in a sense, but it doesn't allow me life the way I want to live it. Um, I guess actually that I would come, I would be completely fine with it, if it pose any issues for me. I know that at some point, as soon as it's possible, I will definitely try to get the German citizenship, because I know that it's the most reasonable thing to to protect myself and best case also my sisters. So I know that thing to do, but in the past I way more, say romantic feelings about it because they, you always like, there's often this reference to like the pursuit of a nationality. And it was kind of similar to me.
[00:30:16] I felt that... to some extent, at least I have to admit that. I think that a lot of the things I was were to some extent to prove my worthiness and value and validate the fact that I am living in this country. Um, and then at some point, would be worthy to actually attain the German nationality.
[00:30:39] And this is at least out of my opinion, like out of my perspective right now, such an unhealthy narrative. And this is why I currently don't like... becoming a German national to me would at some point like... they owe me. That's how I feel right now. It's like, why not, right? So it's not so much anymore that I'm begging for it. And I used to definitely. I really did. And I think a lot of people are feeling this way.
[00:31:12] When talking to other stateless people, all of us have internalized this feeling of maybe not being worthy enough to be allowed, to stay in the country, to be allowed to live free in the country the same way other people do. But the things we are human beings, and every one of us is worthy of this. And we have just been unfortunate where others have been fortunate, right? So none of us actually did anything for being born wherever they are born and being born in the situation we are born. So we're just in a very unfortunate situation.
[00:31:43] And that's why for me, this question is... it's so hard because I think the honest, most honest way for me to respond to that question is that I just don't know. I just don't know. I don't feel like I'm missing being associated with a country right now. Um, but my perspective might change in a few years of course.
[00:32:04] Is citizenship owed or earned?
[00:32:04] Isabelle Roughol: Um, , that's really I think that's your experience does actually very similar to other migration experiences. I talked recently, or oh a couple months ago on the podcast with Dina Nayeri, who's Iranian American and she wrote this book called Refugee and she talks about gratitude kind of this show are put on for the native born.
[00:32:33] And obviously race is built into that as well right, where you're the outsider that should be grateful to be, to be let in. I wonder how you think about, about how those things interplay.
[00:32:48] Christiana Bukalo: Right now, I'm thinking I definitely need to read that book.
[00:32:51] Isabelle Roughol: Oh, for sure. For sure. It's it's very good. I'll send you the as well. She's brilliant.
[00:32:58] Christiana Bukalo: Sounds great. So so hard distinguish at this point for me, I reflect on whether or not what I'm thinking and feeling is really what I'm thinking and feeling, or something have like learned to think, because I felt like this is in which I would be accepted in the environment I'm in.
[00:33:19] So, for example, this thing like gratitude, I am actually a person is extremely grateful to a lot like small things. Um, it doesn't need much actually to make me happy. So I do feel like this is something that's just very much core to my, to my character. But then again, this gratefulness in terms of gratitude, in, in, in terms of being able to be here in Germany, at this point I understand that I don't need to be grateful to Germany as a country, but actually to my parents, that they were able to bear all of this, up unto a point in which I am a adult that is able to take care of my own life. Because the struggle was real and tough.
[00:34:08] And that's when, like, at some point my perspective changed because I used to be very grateful to Germany. And I guess that's also what my parents maybe wanted because they never said that, like they never tapped their selves actually on the back for what they have done. And I just also went into that direction, but at some point it's not Germany that allows me to stay here, but it was my parents that actually fought for me to stay here and be here.
[00:34:37] And of course it is a combination of both. And, um, despite being stateless there are other laws that apparently allows a person like me to be here at this age and this point time. But I think it's very important to be critical to some extent at least, uh, and make sure... because you just, at some point you just tie your self-worth and everything you are doing actually yourself to a system that is way bigger than you. And that kind of strengthens this narrative of powerlessness, something that stateless people, if it's something I can generalize in that sense I guess, so often feel.
[00:35:24] Isabelle Roughol: Thank you so much. This feels like a good place stop and allow listeners to, to reflect on.
[00:35:34] How ~"~passported~"~ people can help
[00:35:34] Isabelle Roughol: What, what can the rest of us do what are the policy objectives of... I don't even know if we can say stateless community, cause I don't know how organized it is because so
[00:35:44] Christiana Bukalo: yeah. Good question.
[00:35:47] Isabelle Roughol: worldwide out and varied.
[00:35:51] Christiana Bukalo: Very good question. I would say we are in the process of establishing a so-called community. Um, so since I started reaching out to different organizations and so forth, I was actually pretty frank also about my confusion terms of not knowing that there are organizations that are advocating my rights, although I'm stateless. And there is a very low rate of representation of stateless people in those areas. So this is something that the organizations have become more and more aware of and...
[00:36:28] Isabelle Roughol: You mean, you mean it's, it's stateless people in organizations advocating for for stateless people. So a bit of a savior situation happening there.
[00:36:38] Christiana Bukalo: Yes, extremely. Um, because like the first time out to the dog or to one of the organizations, I thought that reaching out to them would mean that I would directly meet a lot of stateless people. Um, but that didn't happen. And that is because they are also still in this process of actually understanding that there is a power imbalance that they are somehow supporting by not having people, um, at the core of their work that are effected by statelessness, but that is definitely changing in a lot of organizations. And that's why I'm saying that. I think we are in the process of establishing this community.
[00:37:12] Also with Statefree we are trying to actually build space allows for this organization and community building. It's a digital space that should be hopefully very barrier free to people, global so that everyone can access it and actually get in contact with other stateless people.
[00:37:32] And, so what would we like, what do we want? What kind of policy? Um, it depends. Unfortunately it's so hard because it really depends on the country you live in. There are a few themes and patterns that just appear everywhere. And that's for one like the lacking inclusion in terms of, um, whenever there are certain things find, there are governments that think about how migrants might be affected by it, but there are not so many governments that think about how stateless people might be affected by that.
[00:38:07] Also strengthening the expertise on the difference between migration and statelessness and understanding the needs of stateless persons in specific. Then freedom of movement is something that affects almost everyone, being allowed to travel regardless of whether or not you have a nationality, um, that's something should be allowed. And then also what I mentioned before and it's very technical, but unfortunately extremely important, statelessness determination process, because how would you solve a problem without even identifying it?
[00:38:38] And if we still are stuck at this point of understanding that they are governments that actually just, they just say that there is no status as in their country although people know that there are status people in their country.
[00:38:50] So, um, before we, like, if we don't even know recognize the fact that we are in this reality, there's no way for us to solve it.
[00:39:01] Those would be some of the main points. And I guess as an individual who's not affected by selflessness, really to share stories and make people in your surrounding aware of it is a very important factor because one thing that is really, really hindering the process is just the fact that people don't know about it.
[00:39:19] Status people are not able to vote so they have no influence on the system that impacts them. If people who are able to vote at least know that there is this issue, support by just maybe voting parties that support a policy that improves the situation and so forth. So just being aware and actually sharing the stories, making in your surrounding aware, that's something that's very.
[00:39:44] Isabelle Roughol: Are there any ways that listeners can help, can support Statefree? What stage are you at in, in the development?
[00:39:51] Christiana Bukalo: Yeah. sort development is a very good point. exactly. Active developments say, so we're in the testing phase currently and hope to be able to launch this fall, or it's almost winter already, so winter, but before the end of the year. In case you know any person that either works in the area or maybe it's affected themselves, a person that maybe also works on human rights issues, it will be very helpful just to share our website with them. And we are very much trying to also get in contact with different organizations. That's what we've been doing so far, just building partnerships and collaborations, because statelessness is a human rights issue. And also other people that sector, even if they're focused on other things, need to be aware of the fact that statelessness exists. And if you are maybe a person that even is at the intersection of the topic in terms of a lawyer or so, educate yourself on the topic also to be able to support people in that situation.
[00:40:48] Isabelle Roughol: What's the website?
[00:40:49] Christiana Bukalo: State free dot world.
[00:40:51] Isabelle Roughol: Statefree.world. That's an excellent extension. Uh, we'll make sure to have all that information in the show notes and on the website. Thank you so much Christiana for all this information and for sharing your story. And yeah, fingers crossed things get a bit easier for you and much success to Statefree.
[00:41:10] Christiana Bukalo: Thanks a lot for having me. I really enjoyed the conversation.
[00:41:14] Isabelle Roughol: State free.world is where you can find out more and register your interest if you're a stateless person yourself, or an ally, an NGO, immigration lawyer, journalist, and all you fine people listening to Borderline. Thank you to Christiana Bukalo for educating us on this topic.
[00:41:34] You'll find in the show notes links to the episode that I mentioned to Christiana in our conversation, with Dina Nayeri, author of The Ungrateful Refugee.
[00:41:42] There were a couple more episodes worth listening to as well that I think connect to this conversation, if you haven't yet. They reveal other sides of this coin, if there is such a thing as a four-sided coin. We have Selda Shamloo talking about passport privilege and just a couple of weeks ago, Qian Julie Wang on growing up undocumented. These four women shared some really vital information and moving stories about the people who fall in the cracks when we connect human rights and freedom of movement with national status. It's all in the show notes and at Borderlinepod.com.
[00:42:15] Thanks as always for listening and please remember to share, like, leave five stars and a review. I'm your host, Isabelle Roughol. Music is by Ofshane. Borderline is a One Lane Bridge production and I'll talk to you soon.
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