The scale of the global refugee crisis is widely reported—and staggering. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, over 110 million people globally have been forced to flee their homes; that’s more people than live in Egypt, Germany, or the United Kingdom. But less well understood, less seen—some would say invisible—are the four million to six million people around the world who have no home country at all. These people are described as “stateless,” meaning they are not formally recognized by any state or government. “As far as the state is concerned, they actually do not exist,” says Muhammad Zaman, director of Boston University’s Center on Forced Displacement and Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor of Biomedical Engineering at the College of Engineering.
Zaman grew up in Pakistan, where as many as a million ethnic Bengalis are forced to live on the margins, without access to government identification, schools, or hospitals. “They are not part of any census, they’re not part of any counting,” says Zaman. “And because of that, their numbers may be even greater than we estimate.” Stateless people often live in informal urban settings that leave them vulnerable to the worst effects of natural disasters and the impacts of climate change, he says. For these same reasons, stateless communities can pose challenges for researchers attempting to understand just how they came to be citizens of nowhere, and what can be done to help. “Simply recognizing that these people exist is an important first step,” says Zaman.
In our latest video mini explainer, Zaman tells us how so many people fall through the cracks—even here in the United States.