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Asia-Pacific nations have pledged at talks in Bangkok to take steps, including legal reforms, to tackle statelessness, a key issue in the region. More than half of the world’s 10 million people who are stateless live in Asia, with at least 1 million of them Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar, according to the United Nations.
Government officials from 16 Asian countries “have made commitments to take further steps aimed at preventing and reducing statelessness,” a statement from the U.N.’s refugee agency, UNHCR, said Friday at the end of a two-day meeting in the Thai capital.
“A number of states committed to taking specific steps, including measures to achieve universal birth registration and targeting hard-to-reach populations. Others said they would be tackling legal reforms, especially on issues related to childhood statelessness,” UNHCR said.
People who are not formally recognized as a national of any state under the operation of its laws are considered stateless. Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia are among countries in the region grappling with the issue of stateless people living within their borders.
“One of the key things that I was inspired by today was that several states have said that they will not allow children on their territory to be stateless any more,” said Carol Batchelor, UNHCR’s Special Advisor on Statelessness.
The Bangkok meeting came ahead of high-level, global talks to be held in Geneva in October, as part of UNHCR’s 10-year #IBelong Campaign to End Statelessness. Since the campaign was launched more than four years ago, governments have moved swiftly to contain the statelessness problem, U.N. officials said.
“In this region, some 50,000 people at least, that are known to us, now have a nationality that they didn’t have before this campaign was launched 4½ years ago. So that is a tangible example of some of the progress that’s been made,” Caroline Gluck, a spokeswoman for UNHCR, told BenarNews.
According to Jelvas Musau, senior regional protection officer (statelessness) at UNHCR, one of the main obstacles to addressing the issue is simply understanding it. People often confuse stateless individuals with refugees, he said.
“Refugees are not stateless people. They have their nationalities of where they came from and they will return to those countries. So statelessness is slightly different and once it’s understood properly, I think states will be very keen and eager to address it,” he told BenarNews. Rohingya Muslims sheltering in Bangladesh are an exception, as they are both refugees and stateless.
More than 700,000 Rohingya who fled a bloody military crackdown in Myanmar’s Rakhine state in 2017 are languishing in camps in southeastern Bangladesh. About 800,000 stateless Rohingya remain in Myanmar.
In Thailand, hundreds of thousands of people who have no official citizenship from any state are living in Thai territory, including tribespeople who have come from neighboring countries like Myanmar and Laos.
In Malaysia, authorities are dealing with stateless Rohingya as well as stateless children of Thais who crossed into Malaysian territory to flee from violence in Thailand’s insurgency-hit Deep South. And in the southern Philippines, there are stateless Indonesians living there who came over from Sulawesi island in Indonesia.
In their efforts to reduce the number of stateless people, it is important for countries to share information in their databases about such persons, Batchelor said.
“I think the way forward in improving data is to … have a procedure to determine if somebody is stateless,” she said. “If they are on the territory and they are not a national and they don’t have nationality anywhere else, then they are probably stateless.”
“So having a procedure that identifies and allows for numbers and statistics and data, so once the problem is identified, the solution can be brought to bear. It will be very helpful for the UNHCR and others to have improved statistical information.”
‘One of the proudest moments of my life’
At the Bangkok conference on Friday, an 18-year-old woman, who just a few weeks ago received Thai citizenship, told officials from 16 nations about how her life had changed. Namphung Panya said she was able to travel to the United States to compete in a science and engineering fair a few days after receiving her citizenship, and would be able to continue her education at the university level.
“It was one of the proudest moments of my life,” she told the conference, according to UNHCR. Namphung was born in Thailand and lives in Chiang Rai province near the border with Myanmar, the Bangkok Post reported. She is classified as stateless because her parents are from the Thai Yai ethnic group.
Thailand’s strict Nationality Act does not automatically confer citizenship at birth. In June and July 2018, a small group of stateless people in Thailand drew international attention and scores of TV satellite trucks to a deep cave where a soccer coach and the 12 members of youth team were rescued more than two weeks after they became trapped by rising water.
The world soon learned that the coach and three team members were among the nearly one-half million stateless people registered in Thailand. In less than a month, the Thai government awarded citizenship to the coach and players. Local reports at the time noted all four were born in Thailand, but were not declared citizens because of the Nationality Act.
Thai Human Rights Commissioner Tuenjai Deetes, who attended the meeting, said Thailand was working to register people but was limited by manpower issues. “We registered more than 500,000 stateless people, but we have few officials to interview, document and fill in the nationality request which must be solid,” Tuenjai told BenarNews. “The civil service commission could not provide us with more manpower.”
A widespread issue
Elsewhere in the region, Indonesia, the Philippines and Malaysia are also facing issues involving stateless people. Decades ago, Indonesians sailed from North Sulawesi Province to remote sections of Mindanao island in the Philippines where they are undocumented and stateless, and therefore unable to return home.
In 2018, Indonesia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that thousands of passports were issued to Indonesians and Filipino-Indonesians to allow them to travel to their home country.
A Philippine Department of Justice official said that while his country did not have a specific law pertaining to statelessness, it managed to solve the issue with Indonesia. Adonis P. Sulit, an assistant secretary at the department, offered tips to other nations that could have similar concerns.
“It will be helpful if you have a particular person or group or office to deal with the stateless issue,” he told the meeting in Bangkok. “We were able to reduce statelessness through strong bilateral relationship with Indonesia.”
The Philippines was able to naturalize a large group of stateless persons, while Indonesia did the same for another group and a third was granted dual citizenship.
In 2016, Thai government officials traveled to Malaysia to discuss efforts to help stateless children of parents who escaped from the insurgency-wracked Deep South. Officials at the time did not say how many people would be affected by the efforts.
To combat the plight of statelessness involving children, Malaysia has declared that any baby born in the country is a Malaysian citizen if such citizenship to another country does not carry over through the child’s parents, according to officials at the meeting.
Childhood statelessness has a variety of causes including being born to a stateless parent, lack of registration at birth, migration and gender discrimination that prevents some women from passing their nationality to their children. (RFA)
Reported by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.
Facebook says it plans to hire 10,000 workers in the European Union over the next five years to work on a new computing platform.
The company said in a blog post Sunday that those high-skilled workers will help build "the metaverse," a futuristic notion for connecting people online that encompasses augmented and virtual reality.
Facebook executives have been touting the metaverse as the next big thing after the mobile internet as they also contend with other matters such as antitrust crackdowns, the testimony of a whistleblowing former employee and concerns about how the company handles vaccine-related and political misinformation on its platform.
In a separate blog post Sunday, the company defended its approach to combating hate speech, in response to a Wall Street Journal article that examined the company's inability to detect and remove hateful and excessively violent posts. (VOA/RN)
Keywords: Facebook, Metaverse, Augmented and Virtual Reality
As children, singing the rhyme Rock A Bye Baby was a fun thing to do. It was a statement of thrill and adventure to imagine a child climbing to the top of a tree and rocking to sleep. Especially in the Indian context, rocking a baby to sleep by attaching the cradle to the tree is quite a common thing. But the origin of this rhyme, or lullaby, seems rooted in other histories.
The most popular notion associated with this lullaby is of women leaving their babies tied to tree branches, rocking to sleep with the wind. It is believed that at the time this lullaby was written, it was inspired by a coloniser who saw the Native American women tie their children in birch bark cradles to the trees. The babies went to sleep rocked by the gusts of wind while the parents went about their tasks.
A Native American wooden cradle Image source: Wikimedia Commons
Another interpretation of the rhyme is that it is an allegory to Betty Kenny, or Kenyon, as some versions record it. The Kenyons were a tree-dwelling family, and they used to live in a yew tree. They had carved the tree branches to fit their babies and allowed them to nestle there during the day. The part of the rhyme that talks about falling off the tree is a little scary in this context, but the speculation is that the tree branches were quite low.
The final interpretation of the lullaby has political allusions. King James II of England, was the last Catholic king. He had no heir and reportedly used another baby to impersonate his own. But he was found out and exiled in the Glorious Revolution that took place after he was deposed. The act of falling down from the cradle is a metaphor for those who make mistakes from being overconfident or proud.
The many versions that exist of the rhyme/lullaby make it confusing to really know why it was written in such a strange and morbid manner. Each version points to a different time in history where certain practices were prevalent. However, despite all the various interpretations available, the lullaby itself works wonders in rocking babies to sleep, and perhaps that is the only reason it has survived.
Keywords: Lullaby, Rhyme, King James II, Kenyons, Native Americans, Colonisers
As kids growing up in different states, Shoba Narayan and Michael Maliakel shared a love of one favorite film — "Aladdin." Both are of Indian descent, and in the animated movie, they saw people who looked like them.
That shared love has gone full-circle this month as Narayan and Maliakel lead the Broadway company of the musical "Aladdin" out of the pandemic, playing Princess Jasmine and the hero from the title, respectively.
"Growing up, there was such little South Asian and Middle Eastern representation in the American media, and Princess Jasmine was really all I had. She was a huge role model to me as someone who was intelligent and strong and independent and beautifully curious, and that's who I wanted to be," says Narayan, who grew up in Pennsylvania.
The pair arrived at "Aladdin" in very different ways. Maliakel is making his Broadway debut, but Narayan is a musical theater veteran, having made her Broadway debut in "Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812" and touring with "Hamilton" as Eliza Hamilton.
She was in "Wicked" as Nessarose when the pandemic shut down Broadway in March 2020. Her agent called in April with the prospect of auditioning for Jasmine. She sang "A Whole New World" over Zoom on gallery mode, pretending to be on a magic carpet. "It was a very unique experience," she says, laughing.
Disney producers flew her to New York to meet face-to-face and go through the material again. Narayan was asked to read with different Aladdin potential actors. She got the gig: "I went from a wicked witch to a Disney princess. Can't complain."
Maliakel, a native of New Jersey, came from the world of opera, a baritone who studied at Johns Hopkins University and the 2014 winner at the National Musical Theatre Competition. He trained his voice to be flexible, waiting for the right window to open.
"I didn't really see a lot of people doing what I wanted to do in the world," he says. "There just wasn't a whole lot of representation. So it's really hard to imagine yourself in those scenarios when you have no one to look up to as a role model or an example of how it could be done."
He played Porter and understudied Raoul in a national tour of "The Phantom of the Opera," which ended its run in Toronto just before the pandemic hit.
"I always dreamed that Broadway might happen someday," he says, laughing. "I'm just kind of dipping my toes into the waters in one of the biggest male roles in the business right now, and it's kind of surreal."
'Aladdin' featured as a Broadway Musical with a cast of Indian origin playing the main roles Image credit: Wikimedia Commons
Broadway's "Aladdin" is a musical adaptation of the 1992 movie starring Robin Williams. The musical's story by Chad Beguelin hews close to the film: A street urchin finds a genie in a lamp and hopes to woo a princess while staying true to his values and away from palace intrigue.
Key Alan Menken songs from the film — including "Friend Like Me," ″Prince Ali" and "A Whole New World" — are used. The lyricists are the late Howard Ashman, Tim Rice and Beguelin.
The show — and it's two new leads — had a few performances to celebrate Broadway's return from the pandemic this fall before it was forced to close for several days when breakthrough COVID-19 cases were detected. The actors say the safety of the cast, crew and audience are paramount and closing was the smart move.
"This is how we keep theater going in the pandemic," Maliakel says. "The other option is to just not do it at all. And that's not an option. A week's worth of lost performances, when we look back on things in a year or so, I think will just be a little blip on the radar."
They both look back with heart-thumping appreciation at the early performances when they welcomed back theater-starved audiences, who gave the company 3-minute standing ovations just for singing "A Whole New World."
"It is every brown girl's dream to be singing that song on an actual flying carpet," says Narayan. "And the fact that I got to do it on Broadway in the full costume with the lights and the 32-piece orchestra beneath me — oh, my gosh, I really had to hold it together. It was emotional overload for me."
Maliakel recalls that he and his brothers wore out their VHS cassette version of "Aladdin." He remembers having lunchboxes, pajamas and bed sheets with the film's theme. Aladdin was "every little brown kid's prince." Now he is that prince.
"Now, finally, to get to get paid to do it on the world's largest stage — it's not lost on me how crazy that is," he says. "The responsibility of my position right now feels really great. This moment sort of feels bigger than me in some ways, and I don't take that lightly. I think it's a really exciting time." (VOA/RN)
Keywords: Aladdin, Broadway, Musical, Indian Descendant cast,