Exhibition records human experiences of the 'stateless'
A PHOTOGRAPHIC exhibition aiming to put a human face on statelessness, which affects 12 million people without a nationality, has opened in Dublin.
The Rohingya people of Burma, the Nubians of Kenya and the stateless of Ukraine are among eight groups featured in Nowhere People, a six-year project by US photographer Greg Constantine and sponsored by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
The voices and day-to-day human stories of stateless people have been missing from the conversation on this issue which focuses on the legal and technical aspects, Mr Constantine said ahead of the exhibition opening. There are two international conventions on statelessness, of which Ireland is a signatory.
Being “denied the ability to exist” and belong to the country of their birth was one of the differences between being stateless and being a refugee, he said.
Mr Constantine noted a common thread among the stateless experiences, which range from Dalit children in Nepal denied schooling to an older woman in eastern Ukraine denied a pension.
They had a “feeling that there’s very little that they can do to change the course of their futures because so many obstacles have been built up that are totally out of their control,” he said.
Being denied papers opened many up to other problems such as human trafficking, forced migration and abject poverty, he said.
People become stateless for a wide variety of reasons, from citizenship laws to the creation of new countries.
However, the root cause in most cases was “discrimination and intolerance as governments believe that these particular groups of people don’t belong in mainstream society and they are using citizenship as a way to exclude them,” he said.
One of the most extreme cases in the exhibition is the Rohingya of Burma, a persecuted Muslim minority in the west of Burma.
“For 40 years, a million people have been denied citizenship from the homeland for their birth and the repercussions that has had on them over the decades has been tragic,” he said.
“They don’t have freedom to travel, most of them are not recognised as refugees, they live a hand-to-mouth existence and they really have no control over the course of their futures,” he said.
In order to gain trust, the photographer spent hours speaking with people before taking out his camera. “They have every right not to trust me. They have been failed by pretty much everybody,” he said.When they knew his intention “most people want their stories to be heard,” he said.
He hopes the photographs will help to make an invisible situation visible. “It’s my way of living up to my end of the bargain to the people,” he said.
Nowhere People is showing at the atrium in the Department of Justice, 51 St Stephen’s Green, Dublin from Monday to Friday from 9am-6.30pm, until July 19th; admission is free. See Unhcr.ie.