LOS ANGELES -- There are more 4,000 stateless people in the United States and up to 12 million worldwide, according to the UNHCR.
So a campaign called #IBelong has been launched in an effort to end statelessness by 2024.
We wanted to know what it’s like to live life as a Stateless individual, so on an afternoon in Beverly Hills, we spoke with Mesfin, a man in his 60s who is stateless,
without a valid passport, without any type of citizenship.
Scared of the implications, he has asked us to protect his identity, and would only speak in front of his lawyer.
Mesfin pointed to a map to show us where it all started.
“This is Ethiopia, this is Eritrea,” he said.
After World War II Eritrea became part of Ethiopia, a few decades later Mesfin was born, but in 1991 Eritrea re-gained its independence. And so although Mesfin was born in Ethiopia, the city he was born in, Asmara, overnight became Eritrea.
He remembers being persecuted by Ethiopian authorities, his friends rounded up, put on a bus and sent to Eritrea.
“At that time I’m afraid, and then I escaped from Ethiopia,” said Mesfin.
A little over a decade ago he came to Los Angeles.
“First when I come here I’m really happy,” said Mesfin.
But that changed once his asylum application was denied. Immigration officials wanted to deport him, but Ethiopian authorities allege he’s not a citizen and denied his application to renew his passport. In addition, he has no documents from Eritrea.
According to his immigration lawyer Edward Pilot, his statelessness is what’s keeping him here:
“But for the fact that he’s neither accepted by Ethiopia nor Eritrea he could have already been removed from the USA,” said Pilot.
Mesfin can’t leave the country, but it’s also hard for him to leave his South Bay home, because his driver’s license is tied to his work permit, which expires yearly and takes months to renew.
So he works up to 14 hours a day when his work permit is valid, saving as much money as possible, so he can live off the savings after it expires.
“I have nothing to do I’m sad, but now I’m not going everywhere, because you don’t have passport, you don’t have green card, it’s very sad,” said Mesfin.
He shows us one of his only remaining possessions he brought from Africa, a bible.
It's one of the few things that keeps his hope alive.