syria kids
A girl cries at a bombing site in Aleppo's Dahret Awwad neighbourhood in Syria. Most children born to refugee parents are living in statelessness around the world, warns UN Reuters

A child with no nationality is born every ten minutes around the world, reveals a latest report by United Nations refugee agency UNHCR. According to the report, at least 70,000 stateless children are born each year in the 20 countries hosting largest stateless populations.

The report – I am here, I belong: the urgent need to end childhood statelessness – highlights challenges stateless children face such as being unable to study, train for a career or even open a bank account. "They face a lifetime of discrimination as their status profoundly affects their ability to learn, grow, and fulfil their dreams and ambitions," the agency said in a statement.

The report is based on personal experiences shared by 250 stateless children and youngsters, their parents and guardians in seven countries: Côte d'Ivoire, the Dominican Republic, Georgia, Italy, Jordan, Malaysia and Thailand. The refugees said they had been living like foreigners, describing themselves as "invisible," "alien," "living in a shadow," "like a street dog" and "worthless".

"In the short time that children get to be children, statelessness can set in stone grave problems that will haunt them throughout their childhood and sentence them to a life of discrimination, frustration and despair," UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres said. "None of our children should be stateless. All children should belong."

Statelessness of Syrian children

The report particularly highlights the Syrian conflict that has displaced over four million refugees into neighbouring states in the past four years. Syria's strict laws prevent mothers from passing their nationality to their children. This has left many children stateless as they lost their fathers in the conflict before they were born.

"Because of gender discrimination in Syria's nationality law, Syrian children can only acquire nationality through their fathers. But the conflict has left some 25 per cent of Syrian refugee households without fathers to help verify nationality, making a birth certificate naming a Syrian father the sole means of proving a child's citizenship in many cases," the report says.

In the report, the UN seeks reforms in laws that will allow these children to gain nationality of the country in which they are born. It also seeks to ensure universal birth registration to prevent statelessness, and the "elimination of laws and practices that deny children nationality because of their ethnicity, race or religion". "Several million children are watching their childhood slip away without the sense of belonging and protection that comes with a nationality," the report adds.