World

What is life like for a stateless person?

0:00

Humanitarian Maha Mamo has told the story of her life growing up as a stateless person in Syria at the 2018 TEDx Place Des Nations Women conference.

Maha Mamo has lived almost her entire life as a stateless person. 

Her Muslim mother and Christian father were both born in Syria, but moved to neighbouring Lebanon because their inter-religious marriage was illegal in their home country.

Maha and her siblings were all born in Lebanon.

Because her father wasn't Lebanese, Maha couldn't obtain citizenship in her country of birth, nor were her parents able to register their marriage or the birth of their children in Syria. 

Maha and her siblings were born stateless. 

"The first problem we faced was in school," Maha said in the TEDx talk.

"When my mother wanted to register us in school she had to beg every single director, she went to three schools and we were denied."

"The first question they asked her was: who are they? Where are the documents? As we didn't have anything, they turned us away."

Because she had no documents to identify who she was, Maha wasn't able to access to health care, couldn't go to nightclubs and wasn't even able to buy a sim card for a phone.

"The biggest fear we had was just walking down the street and seeing a check-point, because every time I saw a police check-point I had to run to the other side because I didn't have documents to present," Maha said.

After completing a master’s degree at the only university in Lebanon that would accept her, Maha Mamo wrote to embassies all over world requesting citizenship. 

"Many embassies replied, they simply denied me."

The only country that accepted her request was Brazil, which in 2014 opened its doors to Syrian refugees. 

Maha and her siblings were granted a humanitarian visa.

She later became a citizen of Brazil and was given her very first passport.

She said her passport was more to her than just a document.

"For me it was life, it was a sign that I belong somewhere."

Maha Mamo said millions of people around the world faced the same situation today.

She now works with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees as an advocate for stateless persons, hoping to put an end to statelessness around the world. 

Source SBS News

Topics:

Stay up to date with SBS NEWS

  • App
  • Subscribe
  • Follow
  • Listen
  • Watch