Nationalism is often characterized as an immense feeling of pride in one’s own nation. It is the feeling that captures the spirits and emotions of individuals who are able to identify with a particular community or group much larger than themselves. In essence, nationalism is belonging. This feeling of belonging, as well as the safety and security of a group, is innately what we desire as humans, both for our survival and in our pursuit of purpose. This powerful desire to belong is a significant thread in the fabric of human nature and underlies a majority of our unconscious impulses and many of our conscious actions. Most simply put, nationalism can be understood as individuals uniting under a flag, a shared history, or a common faith.
The term “nation” has often been misconstrued as a synonym for the word “state”. However, the term nation most precisely refers to a collection of people united by a common history, culture, language, faith or ancestry, inhabiting a particular country or territory. Whereas states govern a territory within certain boundaries. The boundaries are often referred to as borders. Within the borders of a state, there are laws, taxes, officials, currencies, postal services, police and usually armies. States claim sovereignty, a kind of exclusive jurisdiction that goes back to the rule of kings, within their territory. States are often comprised of a number of nations who have collectively decided, either willingly or unwillingly, to live under the sovereignty of a state.
The terms refugee and stateless are also terms often used interchangeably. This synonymy is quite inaccurate. According to an article written in the Netherlands International Law Review, “there are refugees and there are stateless persons. Some stateless persons are refugees and some refugees are stateless. Often, stateless persons can be considered as refugees, as they might have “a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular political or social group, and are unwilling or unable to avail themselves of the protection of their country of residence.”
The distinction here comes between de jure and de facto unprotected persons. Generally, refugees are de facto unprotected and stateless persons are de jure unprotected. It would moreover seem more appropriate to concentrate on the protection aspect, as nationality can be related to various forms of protection. In this respect, the difference between “unable” and “unwilling” should be stressed: stateless persons are normally unable to invoke any protection, while asylum-seekers with a nationality are normally unwilling to avail themselves of the protection of their country of nationality. The relationship between a country and its citizens with regard to the “right of citizenship” is often neglected by some states.
It is important to keep in mind, as defined by the International Observatory on Statelessness, “for a person to be “stateless” it is not relevant where he or she is located. Statelessness occurs in both migration and non-migration contexts. A stateless person may never have crossed an international border, having lived in the same country for his or her entire life.” Again, it must be remembered that the “inability” to be “protected” under the laws of a state is what truly defines someone as stateless.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), “statelessness can occur for several reasons, including discrimination against particular ethnic or religious groups, or on the basis of gender; the emergence of new states and transfers of territory between existing states; and gaps in nationality laws. Whatever the cause, statelessness has serious consequences for people in almost every country and in all regions of the world.” Global unrest is a lingering symptom of statelessness, which often times has been caused by centuries of colonialism and decades of imperialism — the over 30 million Kurdish people in the Middle East, the many displaced Rohingya in what is now Myanmar, or even the Inuit people of Canada are just a few examples of stateless nations of people who have become drowned in the unforgiving tides of history.