When the Subaltern Speaks Online: Stateless Advocacy through the Post-Pandemic Digital Space

Joe Poladoghly, Stateless Writer and Master’s student in Human Rights and Democratisation from Lebanon
/ 4 mins read

In this blog, Joe Poladoghly explores how the digitalisation of workspaces during the pandemic has improved the inclusion of stateless advocates in work focused on one of the core issues that impacts their lives. This blog highlights the opportunities digitalisation has created, warns of the need to protect these new ways of working and questions the long-term impact of digital participation for statelessness advocacy and community building.

Image by Chris Montgomery via Unsplash
Image by Chris Montgomery via Unsplash

When the world was forced to adapt to digital means due to Covid pandemic restrictions, the framework of engagement shifted for stateless advocacy and activism. As the use of digital tools became normalised and widespread, stateless advocates - who were previously unable to register their voices and opinions in global debates on statelessness - were finally given the chance to participate. However, this was not a deliberate move towards more inclusivity; rather, it was because the physical world went still that stateless advocates were given the opportunity to be more actively involved in online events, discussions, webinars, and trainings.

While the discourses of “invisibility” and forced immobility still permeate statelessness studies, cyberspace is opening up and new, exciting movement-building opportunities are proliferating for stateless mobilisers. One question, then, is whether this digital access is a stepping stone for participatory methodologies in the long-term. Will these opportunities remain available as the world moves towards the so-called “post-pandemic” era? In this blog, I consider the positive use of the internet as a nexus for advocacy, awareness raising, and community building for stateless advocates.

For over three decades now, online platforms have served as a common space for communities who otherwise do not have the capacity to find one another for legal and/or social reasons — and the further digital technology has developed, I argue, the fewer reasons there are not to utilise it for the benefit of marginalised communities. When it comes to stateless advocacy, however, the use of the internet took a significant amount of time — specifically a pandemic — to be considered seriously. An example of this is the recent launch of Unione Italiana Apolidi, a non-profit association which aims to improve the lives of stateless individuals in Italy through awareness raising and advocacy campaigns. Led by those affected by statelessness, this association is the result of a periodic online engagement by stateless individuals to identify their needs and mobilise accordingly. Another example is that of Statefree, an online platform that aims to provide a sense of ownership to stateless individuals around the world and empower them through community building practices online. It is not so much the mere existence of such digital spaces that is of paramount importance here as it is the meaningful engagement provided by their inclusive networking goals.

In her powerfully titled blog “Please don’t buy me a plane ticket to speak at your event, I don’t have a passport!”, Lynn Al Khatib, a stateless changemaker, identifies the loophole of booking flights for stateless rightsholders to speak about their plight while the possibility of traveling is practically non-existent. And when it is possible, little consideration is given on whether they can afford being at such events. Lynn writes, “Organisers saw travel costs as a minor expense that speakers could easily claim back after the event, and did not understand this was not always possible.” In response to such concerns, the European Network on Statelessness has recently launched a community speaker policy, where online engagement is recommended as a vital part of the process of inclusion.

A counterargument to the potentiality of online spaces for inclusivity and activism may be that the powers of the internet are limited. Overcoming all barriers to meaningful participation is difficult through a web of intangible digital connections. Nevertheless, when it comes to stateless voices, we cannot but observe a strengthening of the stateless movement through digital means. Today, stateless activists are raising their concerns through tweets, opinion posts, personal blogs, video essays on various social media platforms — and in the process, an e-community of stateless rightsholders is being formed regionally and globally. The conversations about displacement and disbelonging are now shared amongst those who otherwise would not know that their peers exist, and exist not in hundreds or thousands, but in millions, and that they exist not too far away. In this vein, those who have carried on, through shame and embarrassment of their statelessness, are now able to communicate their sentiments with their peers over the web and often feel ultimately less lonesome in their plight.

Indeed, the internet has not only become a meeting point for stateless individuals across the globe, but also a very potent source of knowledge-production and -sharing. The labelling of stateless individuals as “invisible” is being revisited, reconsidered, and reconstructed by stateless advocates themselves in a world that does not seem to be hearing them. Supranational entities such as the UNHCR that create online campaigns through certain hashtags (#IBelong) can only get so far in stirring the conversation intra-communally. Yet the essence of this digital advocacy-based, stateless-led involvement lies in the hands of the stateless who locate their freedoms through the internet. Hence, concern presently lies in the fact that digital accessibility is losing momentum by event organisers. Ultimately, this loss will result in a gradual disconnection while triggering a setback for stateless participation. We must hope, then, that the availability of online engagement becomes part and parcel of stateless engagement, even when the world moves towards a “post-pandemic” future.

This blog was first published by the University of Melbourne's Critical Statelessness Studies Blog in August 2022. We are re-posting it now to highlight the issues raised.

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