At least 10 million people worldwide are deprived of nationality. There are more than 600 000 stateless people in Europe. This prevents them from living a life that other people take for granted.
In 2016, Bulgaria introduced a status determination procedure for a stateless person. Only 17 countries around the world have set up specialized procedures for status determination of stateless persons. Getting such status is a step towards citizenship and gain of basic human rights.
Karen is the first person who received a status of a “stateless person” in Bulgaria.
Could you present yourself?
My name is Karen. I’m 28-years-old. I was born in 1989 in Tbilisi, Georgia, but I have been living in Sofia, since I remember. Today is one of the happiest days of my life as my biggest dream comes true – I will receive an identity document.
Why were you without any identity papers until now?
In 1993, I came to Bulgaria with my family, I crossed the border with my mother’s passport. Years after, it turned out that I don’t have an identity card, no passport, and no one can issue it. All the problems started at the moment when I turned 18 and became an adult.
I grew up in Bulgaria, I have been living here almost all my life, all my friends and close ones are here. But when I turned 18, it turned out that I can’t have an identity card as no country admits me as a citizen. I became a stateless person.
In such a situation, you are just nobody.
What are the limitations you face as a stateless person?
In the past 9 years, I am in a situation that I don’t know what is going to happen next. I can’t make any plans for my future and my life. There are many boundaries – you cannot enroll to study, you cannot get or pay insurances, you cannot find a job, you cannot pay your taxes. You are prevented from doing many ordinary for the other people things.
I have been stopped for a regular check of papers. When the policemen see that I do not have an ID, the problems commence. Whenever such situation happens to me, it’s very unpleasant because I feel like a criminal, when I’m actually going to work and someone just wants to check my ID.
I can’t go to places that are for over 18 years old, as I cannot prove my age. Basically, I have to go home at 10pm.
What will change for you after receiving papers for a legal status of a “stateless person”?
I become a free person now. Freedom is the best thing. I will not have to worry, I can make and follow future plans, I will feel differently. I will feel as a person.
Until now, I have grown up here, I have been living here, all my friends are here, but until now I didn’t feel complete. It’s impossible because you are nobody.
What are your dreams from now on?
My biggest dream is to have a home and family, here in Bulgaria. And I hope this can happen soon.
If we meet again after one year, I would like to be able to tell you that I had the opportunity to take my wonderful girlfriend on a holiday around Europe, and other places abroad. So far, we didn’t have the chance to go out of Bulgaria together because of my status.
What do you believe in?
Strength. I don’t like to give up. When I want to achieve something, I do the impossible to make it happen. Also, I respect the elder people. They can give you many advices and an important direction in crucial moments in life.
“Maybe for you it seems something not so significant, but in reality, it is huge! The status itself is a whole triumph.” – Karen