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Citizenship, Part 1

January 14, 2011 1 comment

When a baby comes into the World it is a citizen of nowhere. Until somebody submits the details of it’s birth to a national civil register that child is a stateless person. When that submission happens, what is written on that single sheet of paper will have the greatest consequences of any event in it’s life. From the point of view of that child that process is incontestable, arbitrary and, by even the loosest definition of the word, completely unfair.

Which of the World’s 193 sovereign states we are born into greatly affects our life expectancy and our access to health care and education. It could mean we are born into an environment where we have complete freedom of worship and expression, or one where we are subject to forced indoctrination and subjugation. It greatly influences our ability to receive and create wealth. Above all, it restricts our ability to remove ourselves from places where we face negative outcomes. The greener the grass is over there, the higher the fences will be preventing us from getting there. The biggest roll of the dice we face happens when we have the least possible chance of influencing the outcome, and, without reference to our free will, could place us in a mud hut in West Africa, or in Beverley Hills.

How arbitrary and unfair this is can be illustrated with a couple of examples. If an ethnic Russian is born in the town of Narva, that person is free to travel throughout western Europe. In many countries, Britain included, that person could find work in whatsoever industry he fancied, in whatsoever capacity they are willing to employ him in. He wouldn’t have to have a language test, pay for expensive visas or deal with any bureaucratic machinations. An identically ethnic Russian born two miles away in Ivangorod would have to contend with all of these things. Even if that Russian were a Phd level scientist the UK immigration quotas may prevent him from taking a top level research job, whilst the Narva Russian can freely come without even the need to show a high school diploma. Why is this? You’ve probably guessed; Narva is in Estonia and being born there usually means being born into EU citizenship. Ivangorod is short walk across the Narva river, and in the Russian Federation.

Or, an example a bit closer to home for me, take someone born in Brazil to a French father. Her grandfather and grandmother on her dad´s side were both thoroughly French, so her dad should be French and, under French citizenship laws, she could have been registered as a French citizen. However before she was born, her grandfather failed to register her father. So in the eyes of an EU country’s immigration officials she is  ‘Brazilian’ and has to contend with the full extent of the restrictions placed on immigration. If her grandfather hadn’t made that omission, before she was born and way outside of her control, then, with no change in who she is, the immigration system would happily see her as ‘French’ and she could come and go with absolutely no restriction whatsoever.