Am I part of the problem?

Laura van Waas, Co-Director of the Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion
/ 4 mins read

Reflections on the interaction between statelessness and dual nationality

I’m confused. You don’t want to grant nationality to this little girl, who was born here and has been growing up here and who appears to be stateless, because she hasn’t done enough to truly convince you (beyond a shadow of a doubt, apparently, since this is serious business) that she hasn’t acquired a nationality somewhere else, without any of us knowing it? You’ve considered her best interests, but decided you need to avoid “mistaken” grant of nationality at all costs, so this must have precedence over her individual rights as a child?

I’m confused. When this little boy was discovered abandoned as a baby outside a Doctor’s home many years ago, you registered him, gave him a name, found him someone to look after him and granted him nationality – all the protection a “foundling” should enjoy. He’s since grown up feeling a part of this country, with foster parents, friends and an adoptive big sister all from here. But the identity of his birth mother has now been uncovered from old hospital records, and since it appears that she was foreign – even though she remains untraced – you now want to withdraw the boy’s nationality because you think you made a mistake?

I’m confused. This young woman has lived here since she was six years old. She went to primary school here, then secondary, then university. She has a job at an accountancy firm, has never been in trouble with the law, nor late in paying the rent on her apartment. She speaks the language, supports the national team, celebrates national holidays. She ticks every box to qualify for naturalisation and formalise her “full” membership of the community, but you insist that she can’t complete the process until she produces evidence of her foreign nationality – one which she must then give up – even though this is impossible in her case, because she is stateless?

I’m sorry, but am I part of the problem? Not just because I don’t seem to be able to understand the choices you are making, but because I am part of a phenomenon that you apparently find unsettling?

I am a dual national. There, I admitted it. In fact, I’m even rather proud of it! How, then, am I perhaps part of the problem? Well, the only “disaster” that could unfold if you were to grant the little girl a nationality even if, in the end, it turned out she already had another; or allow the little boy to keep a nationality even though he may, theoretically, also have access to one through his birth mother; or let the young woman naturalise without proving she had and has given up another nationality… is that another case of dual nationality might inadvertently arise.  Is that what you are worried about?

My British nationality was passed down to me from my parents when I was born and I still feel a close connection to that heritage and to the country much of my family still lives in. When I was an adult, I chose to obtain my Dutch nationality because the Netherlands became my adoptive country: it is where I grew up, where my husband is from and – later – where I had children of my own. Does also being British make me any less Dutch? Does becoming Dutch make me any less British? Should I now be viewed with great suspicion by both countries or as some kind of problem for the international community to solve? I hope not, especially given that in our highly globalised world, the reality is that a great many people experience multiple forms of belonging.   

Still, you wouldn’t be the first – nor, most certainly, will you be the last – to be concerned about us dual nationals. Coming up for a century ago, the world’s governments came together under the auspices of the League of Nations to agree a treaty on nationality because they were “convinced that it is in the general interest of the international community to secure that all its members should recognise that every person should have a nationality and should have one nationality only” (preamble to the 1930 Hague Convention on Certain Questions Relating to the Conflict of Nationality Laws).

And there we have it: concern about statelessness and concern about dual nationality, expressed in a single breath. Somehow, looking at the way some nationality laws are crafted and the problems that arise in practice in their implementation, these two “concerns” have become entangled (as shown with the very real examples above). So, while studies show that dual nationality is increasingly tolerated around the globe, somehow the sense of dual nationality being something threatening has lingered to the extent that it is impairing our ability take effective measures to avoid and reduce statelessness – a phenomenon that we know really does pose a problem, for the individual affected and for states. So, rather than being preoccupied with dual nationality, shouldn’t we focus on fulfilling the fundamental right of every child to a nationality; preserving a child’s identity, including nationality; and facilitating access to nationality for those affected by statelessness? 

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