Statelessness in the Caribbean: The Paradox of Belonging in a Postnational World explores ‘the situation of those who are excluded from formal belonging by practices of citizenship deprivation and denial in the countries of their birth’ (p. 4). Using the comparative case study of The Bahamas and the Dominican Republic, Kristy A. Belton challenges the postnational worldview that stresses flexible membership and denationalized rights. By focusing on ‘noncitizen insiders’ who are either rejected or not fully protected by the states of their birth, she highlights how the relationship between individuals and the state is still very much necessary for enjoying fundamental protections. Belton argues that we must ‘reconceptualize statelessness as a form of forced displacement’ in order to truly understand and address this extreme form of noncitizenship (p. 4). By viewing statelessness as ‘forced displacement in situ’, she demonstrates ‘how states can engage in practices that forcibly displace the unwanted among them, often through seemingly neutral membership policies or laws or ostensibly banal bureaucratic procedures’ (pp. 4–5). Indeed, she stresses that statelessness does not happen by accident or oversight; ‘stateless people are made’ (p. 151). Yet although the stateless often suffer from the same rights abuses and vulnerabilities as the forcibly displaced, their plight does not garner the same global attention as those fleeing armed conflict or suffering under failing states. Rather, statelessness is a sort of slow-burning crisis where those lacking legal nationality ‘are thus left to languish in the netherworld of liminality’ (p. 176). Drawing from extensive semi-structured interview and participant observation data—as well as an array of primary and secondary sources related to citizenship and rights—Belton builds an impressive counter-argument to postnational discourse, as well as contributes greatly to our understanding of statelessness itself. She offers an overview of statelessness, beginning with the work of Hannah Arendt and ending with contemporary examples that extend beyond cross-border movement, conflict, and crisis. Chapters 3 and 4 explore case studies from The Bahamas and the Dominican Republic, where democracies ‘can forcibly displace people under noncrisis and nonconflict situations via legal, political, and bureaucratic means’ (p. 25). Using Victor Turner’s analysis of liminality as a basis for chapter five, Belton outlines how statelessness impacts a person’s sense of belonging and their ability to access human rights. Finally, she argues in chapter 6 that fulfilling the right to a nationality (and therefore resolving statelessness) is a matter of global distributive justice. The first comparative analysis of statelessness in the developing democracies of the Caribbean, this book provides vital qualitative data in the yet-emerging scholarly field of statelessness research. As Belton quite rightly notes ‘not only are the stateless described as invisible, but they are often numerically invisible as well’ (p. 124). Most countries (including The Bahamas and the Dominican Republic) do not collect data on their stateless populations, making it hard to gauge the extent of statelessness or to offer meaningful policy responses to combat it. While the depth of Belton’s fieldwork is laudable on purely methodological grounds, it is worth stressing that her contribution to statelessness research is vitally important. In The Bahamas, for instance, she illustrates how a large gap exists between official policy and practice. Bahamian nationality law is neutral in theory, yet fieldwork data highlights how Bahamian-born persons of Haitian descent are often denied citizenship—or placed into the category of ‘Haitian national’ without their consent—via a system of exclusionary citizenship laws, electoral politics, bureaucratic inefficiencies, and cronyism. Belton argues that ‘determining who belongs where is no simple endeavor’ (p. 83). ‘It is not merely a matter of identifying whether an individual falls under a given state’s law as one of its nationals’, she writes. ‘In order to establish whether a person’s human right to a nationality is fulfilled in practice we must examine the political practices and bureaucratic procedures of states to see how laws are implemented in reality’ (p. 83). In the Dominican Republic, years of exclusionary membership practices culminated in the 2013 Constitutional Court decision (Sentence TC/0168/13) that stripped hundreds of thousands of people of their Dominican citizenship. Similar to the Bahamian case, a variety of legal, political, and bureaucratic factors work to deny Dominican-born people of Haitian descent from attaining nationality. Yet intense anti-Haitianism in the Dominican Republic—and the fact that many now-denationalized people were once Dominican citizens—distinguishes this case study from others. Indeed, Belton contends that statelessness in the Dominican Republic ‘demonstrates that in a seemingly postnational world, the state continues to erect clear boundaries of belonging and to deny citizenship to those it feels should have no place within them’ (p. 86). Belton not only supports her arguments with extensive data, but she also concisely explains social and political complexities that might otherwise dissuade readers. She provides illustrations that succinctly summarize the risk factors for statelessness in The Bahamas (81) and the Dominican Republic (p. 115), for instance, thus highlighting how an interconnected web of bureaucracy, law, politics, and other factors create a perfect storm for denied nationality. She similarly draws from a variety of theoretical works (including theories of political membership and human capabilities in chapter 6) that advance her argument—and her practical desire to reconceptualize statelessness in order to achieve real-world solutions—without getting lost in a maze of philosophical debate. Although situations of statelessness are indeed grim, another strength of Statelessness in the Caribbean is that it leaves us with an alternative framework for addressing this rights crisis: global distributive justice. Belton argues that ‘it is unjust not to share the world with others and to exclude millions from citizenship, and that every stateless person has ‘the right to belong’—that is, everyone has the right to citizenship in the country of their birth or in the state where they have made a life (p. 177). These simple but powerful assertions offer a path forward, through the murky politics that deny citizenship and impede human rights. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. For permissions, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)
Migration Studies – Oxford University Press
Published: Apr 30, 2018
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