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What happens when a person’s identity is negated to the point that they are deprived of any official existence? This person becomes stateless: they do not belong to any country – not even the one they consider their own. Most of the world’s 10 million stateless people do not feature in any census. They are seldom refugees: many have never left the land on which their ancestors were born.

The question of who belongs and who does not, who has access to resources and who should be denied them, is a hot topic in our times of pervasive identity crises and populism fueled by social media. The philosopher Hannah Arendt wrote that citizenship is “the right to have rights”; in The Origins of Totalitarianism, she described the process of dehumanization of stateless people: when “Others” are created and differences are exploited, citizenship becomes an instrument to deprive of rights those who could threaten political, ethnic or economic interests.

I have been documenting stateless communities, or “at risk of statelessness” in several countries.

This story was published for the first time in National Geographic France, in 2023