“Everyone has the right to a nationality”

ENS interview - Christiana Bukalo

28 September 2020

ENS caught up with Christiana Bukalo, an active ENS member and stateless person based in Germany who is developing a new website statefree.world. We spoke about her motivations for developing a website on statelessness and what she hopes to achieve, some of the challenges that come with deciding to speak publicly as a stateless person, and some of the future challenges and things that keep her positive looking to the future.

You joined ENS as an individual member in September 2019. Tell us about your work on statelessness and why you decided to join the network.

When joining ENS I didn’t actually perceive myself as somebody who is “working” on statelessness, to be honest. I rather felt like a stateless person who was just now starting to realise that statelessness is a widespread problem. This was also the main reason I wanted to join the network. I wanted to learn more about the ‘why’s and ‘how’s of statelessness and use that understanding to nurture my initiative. Although I already had a vague idea and vision of the statefree.world website at that time, the idea was still very fresh and nonconcrete. Nonetheless I knew that I wanted my contribution to be empowering and authentic.

Since then and with support from ENS, you’ve been getting statefree.world ready for public use. What motivated you to create a website about statelessness and what do you hope to achieve?

I have to say the motivation and decision to create the website stemmed from my increasing personal frustration with the topic. As a stateless person I was often confronted with the void of information on the internet. I almost never found the information I needed and oftentimes gave up on finding it. My confusion got even bigger, when I started to realise that there have been people and organisations working to fight statelessness. Why did I, as a stateless person not know that there are people trying to solve the problem for me? There seemed to be a communication gap between those working on statelessness and those affected by it.

The website statefree.world is a reflection of my decision and desire to close this gap. The mission is to provide a virtual space for people to find relevant information on statelessness and build connection and community at the same time. statefree.world will be the first online forum to focus solely on stateless people and their allies. The goal is to create a safe space for people to share their stories, support each other and learn from each other's experiences.

You’ve been developing statefree.world in your spare time around full-time work, with some support from friends. Now that you’ve launched the website, how can others get involved?

Yes, we’ve launched a first landing page, but this is really only the beginning. The next step is to assure data security and make sure that the platform can keep its promise to its future users. The landing page allows people to sign up already and I would love to see people getting involved by simply joining the journey up until we launch the forum. Joining the journey means to click on the “register now” button, fill out the form and share and spread the news with other people who might be interested to join the forum as soon as it’s launched. We’re planning to soon send out regular information and a newsletter to those who already signed up to transparently share with the community what we are working on. Our main aim right now, is to reach as many stateless people and allies as possible. Every connection, every contact is valuable.

Since joining ENS, you’ve spoken publicly about your experience and statefree.world, including at our recent webinar on addressing statelessness in Europe. What are some of the challenges you’ve faced when deciding to speak publicly as a stateless person?

One of the main challenges was deciding how much I wanted to reveal about my personal identity. It’s not easy to speak up as a stateless person and I was very scared about what might potentially happen if I share too much about my identity. This is why I at first decided to use a pen name instead of my real identity. At some point I noticed that this kind of contradicted what I was working on with the website initiative, which aims to empower and encourage people to speak up and share their stories to finally end this invisibility. Hence, hiding my own identity while encouraging other to be open felt to me as if I’m betraying my own cause. Instead I now decided to use my own name but to work even more on how to provide a truly safe space in which stateless people don’t need to consider using a fake name in order to share their true selves.

You have also been meeting with other stateless people and community representatives from across Europe through monthly online sessions facilitated by ENS. What does it mean to be able to connect with others affected by statelessness? 

It’s a great opportunity, but I have to say, when looking at it from an emotional perspective it’s also a double-edged sword. Looking back, it’s very obvious to me that I have been subconsciously avoiding the topic of statelessness in the last few years. I was very much focused on solely looking at the good things in life and not so much on dealing with those things that meant struggle and discomfort to me. Nonetheless there comes a time in which that is no option anymore, and I assume I have now reached that point. The people I have been able to meet in the online sessions are a great reflection of the different perspectives, experiences, struggles and also hopes around statelessness. The input and viewpoints have been very valuable also for my own confrontation with the topic. Hearing the different opinions, perspectives and experiences is both extremely valuable and eye opening.

Finally, what are the biggest challenges you see facing stateless people and what keeps you positive?

Right now, I feel there are too many big challenges to name only a few, but the one that is worrying me the most is still the invisibility and lack of awareness in society. There’s no way of solving a problem without being aware that it exists. So this is something we definitely need to solve.

The resilience and hope I see in the institutions and communities is what keeps me positive at the moment and I hope that it will remain for as long as we have to work on statelessness.

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