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Handa Research Fellow discusses statelessness in Southeast Asia

Apr 26 2019

By Rachael Ku, Handa Center Student Assistant

Christoph Sperfeldt, a Research Fellow at the Handa Center and a Senior Research Fellow at the Peter McMullin Centre on Statelessness at Melbourne Law School, recently spoke to a Stanford audience on statelessness in Southeast Asia. Stateless individuals, or individuals who are not recognized as nationals by any state, are a growing population and, oftentimes, are barred from access to legal identification. Sperfeldt dedicated his talk to discussing issues arising from stringent citizenship laws that result in statelessness in ASEAN nations, as well as directions these countries should take in addressing the problem.

To illustrate the damaging nature of statelessness, Sperfeldt explained how individuals who are not considered nationals by their states are restricted in social, economic, and physical mobility. Regarding issues surrounding human rights, he noted that stateless individuals are more vulnerable to becoming victims of trafficking, while trafficked individuals are more vulnerable to becoming stateless.

On possible solutions to combat statelessness, Sperfeldt examined how states in the past have dealt with stateless individuals. He cited case studies from Thailand, Vietnam, and other Southeast Asian countries, although he did express the concern that most countries in this region were hesitant to participate in international efforts to solve the problem due to a “strong decolonial effect.” Particularly in Southeast Asia, he communicated that issues of statelessness are “very hard to solve through technocratic solutions if there is discriminatory intent.” Looking into the future, Sperfeldt suggested that further research would help answer questions about how statelessness can be better understood and addressed.