The Rohingya crisis in the east rages on.  The number of Syrian refugees is still absolutely staggering.  Afghani displacement remains commonplace as the war with the Taliban continues.

What do these crises have in common?  Stateless people.

It’s true, they may or may not be generally recognized as citizens by their governments, but in a world continuing to revolve around documented information, there seems to be no place for those without such documentation to begin with.

Imagine trying to navigate the United States without an ID–no drivers licence, no passport, not even a social security card to your name.  You wouldn’t be able to effectively integrate into the community without at least one of those.  It’s the authorities’ business to know who is travelling within their borders, interacting with their citizens and conducting business in their cities.  There’s a reason why every country on the planet doesn’t just let anyone in whenever they want.  As far as they know, you’re just a drifter, wanderer, or even someone with more malicious intent.  They have absolutely no idea who you are, which is partially what can make these border situations so tense.

Many of these people grew up in places that truly illustrate the definition of the word “rural.”  Afghani farmers and Burmese hill tribesman are more likely to be born in a hut in the woods than they are in a hospital with doctors and nurses.  No one is signing a birth certificate, their name is not getting put on any lists–they have simply arrived, and you have a baby that is, as far as the government is concerned, is not a documented citizen.

Fast forward twenty years, where this person has not left their cluster of villages and their life revolves around living off the land by the callouses on their hands and the sweat on their brow.  They have no TV, a radio that maybe gets one station, and only a handful of friends that have interaction with the outside world–a trip to the nearest town of a few thousand people.

A Rwandan refugee camp – photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

When these kinds of  people are violently displaced, they are often left with no choice but to run with what they can carry on their backs.  Traveling over great distances, often by foot, they eventually are going to reach the nearest country, and what is anyone asked at any border?  For identification.

As mentioned before, as far as the neighboring government goes, you may be a refugee, but you may also be a terrorist or even a drug smuggler.  These problems abound when those types of criminals use refugee crises to their advantage.  But what about the vast majority of very regular people?  Where do they have to go?