“Everyone has the right to a nationality”

Sarah - Faces of Statelessness

I live day by day, not knowing what the future will bring.

Sarah was born and raised in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Until the age of 18 she possessed both Congolese and Rwandan nationality as her father is Rwandan and her mother is Congolese.

In 2001, during the conflicts between the two neighboring countries, Sarah’s parents were arrested on allegations of spying on the Congolese government. At the age of 15 Sarah was left on her own. She stayed with family friends for a year, but soon realised that she had nowhere to go. More and more she felt that her life was in danger if she stayed in Congo.

After a year of her parents being put into jail, in 2002, when Sarah was only 16, she decided to flee to the Netherlands. On her arrival she applied for a residence permit for unaccompanied minor asylum seekers.

Her application was rejected and the process of repatriation commenced. However 2 days prior to her return to Kinshasa, Congo the Dutch Repatriation & Departure Service announced that the Laisser-Passer needed for her deportation and previously granted by the Congolese authorities had been withdrawn for unknown reasons. This suspended the deportation process and Sarah was allowed to stay.

In order to regularise her status Sarah applied for a Dutch “no-fault residence permit”, a one year residence permit for those who cannot leave the Netherlands through no fault of their own. As part of her application she had to acquire proof of identity documentation from the Congolese authorities and it was at this point Sarah for the first time realised that she was stateless.  

The Congolese Embassy in the Netherlands stated that she automatically lost her Congolese nationality at the age of 18, stating that people with dual nationality are ought to opt for one nationality when they turn 18. Sarah was not aware of this.

She contacted the Rwandan Embassy several times to try and obtain identity documents from them. However, she was told that she cannot be recognized as Rwandan citizen because she was not born in Rwanda, and has no close links to the country.  

I’m staying irregularly in the Netherlands, no perspective of reacquiring a Congolese nationality or obtain the Rwandan nationality I thought I was entitled to.

Now, twelve years later, Sarah is still stuck in the same situation, unable to (re)acquire original Congolese or Rwandan identity documents.  Because the Netherlands currently has no procedure to recognise or regularise stateless persons, Sarah has no solution in sight.

When I was in the process of applying for a residence permit for unaccompanied minor asylum seekers in the Netherlands, at least I had the chance to study and make friends. Right now I feel isolated, I stay at home every day. I wish I could start a family but I cannot looking at my situation.