Britain must resolve issue of stateless people
Updated on Mar 14, 2009
We refer to the report regarding the amendment to the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Bill to give BN(O)s an entitlement to register as British citizens ("Britain debates citizenship for BN(O) holders", March 9).
The amendment inserts British Nationals (Overseas) into section 4B of the British Nationality Act 1981. That provision to obtain full British citizenship requires applicants to hold no nationality other than British nationality. The amendment will not, as was claimed, affect the 3.5 million BN(O)s who are Chinese citizens.
The amendment would cover only BN(O)s from the ethnic minorities who are not properly catered for by the British Nationality (Hong Kong) Act 1997.
In the debate, it was reiterated that Britain has made people de facto stateless and reneged on firm commitments made to them for their children to have a nationality. In February 1997, the home secretary announced that the solely British ethnic minorities would be allowed "to apply for registration as British citizens, giving them right of abode in the United Kingdom, after 30 June 1997". The prime minister subsequently confirmed this adding that they were potentially stateless and that they would now have a nationality.
Referring to the ethnic minorities, the present lord high chancellor and secretary of state for justice said in February 1997 that "A BN(O) passport carries with it the right of abode nowhere. The claim that this amounts to British nationality is pure sophistry. Common sense and common humanity demand that we give these people full British citizenship."
British law penalises BN(O)s seeking British citizenship by imposing stricter requirements on them compared to people who failed to get a BN(O) passport and became British Overseas citizens.
The amendment would remove that penalty. It will also equalise the position of BN(O) parents whose children born after the handover can acquire British citizenship but who cannot register as British citizens themselves. As Lord Hylton said during the debate, "statelessness is a very severe disability". Britain must set the position right and accept its nationals who are de facto stateless. In 2002 we did this for British Overseas citizens, British subjects and British protected persons (including those from Hong Kong). BN(O)s were excluded because they were supposedly "adequately catered for". However, there are BN(O)s who hold no other nationality yet cannot register for British citizenship.
Lord Avebury, Tameem A. Ebrahim, London
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