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Hello world explorers!

As I take upon more projects, managing multiple websites requires some serious economization of time and labor. Accordingly, effective March 1, 2017, I am moving all new articles to Medium .

The domain name knowyourplanetearth.space will forward to the new site starting Monday, March 5, 2017.

Past articles on this sites will remain online until all articles have been migrated to Medium, at which point, this site will be deleted.

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Almost everyone on earth has a nationality.

Amanda is a Canadian. Brittany is an American. Chloe is a British. Dvorah is an Israeli. Eugenia is an Argentine. Fiona is an Irish. When they travel outside their own country, generally they have to carry a passport and are subject to immigration laws of whichever the country they are visiting.

It is so universal that almost everybody takes it for granted. Almost.

There are, however, people with no nationality — they cannot get a passport from any country.

They are called stateless persons.

How many stateless persons are there in the world? It is hard to tell because of several reasons.

  • Each country defines statelessness differently.
  • Different numbers are reported depending on which non-governmental organizations or government is surveying.
  • Only those recognized by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) are often included in statistics.

Also: by the very nature of stateless persons as undocumented there is no centralized database.

The United Nations estimates the figure to be over 10 million mostly concentrated in South Asia and potentially Africa.

What is nationality?

The word nationality means two different things. First, it can mean ethnicity. Second, it means a status of belonging to a sovereign state. In many countries, nationality (in the second sense of the word) and citizenship are the same (for example, Canada). In some countries, they mean different things. For example in the United States, almost all U.S. citizens are nationals of the United States of America; however, those who are born in the Territory of American Samoa are not U.S. citizens even though they are U.S. nationals. In Japan, citizenship means being a registered resident of a city, not necessarily being a legal national of Japan.

In many countries, being a national confers both rights and obligations. For example, in most countries, a national is eligible to vote in elections. On the other hands, in countries such as Israel, South Korea, and Singapore, nationality obligates a person to conscription (military or national service). Most countries issue passports only to their nationals (exception: The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China issues special passports to Hong Kong permanent residents who are not eligible for Chinese citizenship; also, Hong Kong permanent residents born in Hong Kong on or before June 30, 1997 may obtain a British National (Overseas) passport from the British Consulate-General, which does not confer British citizenship).

Who are stateless persons?

According to the guidelines issued by UNHCR, a stateless person lacks, at a present given moment, a nationality (a legal bond between a person and a state) whether or not there may be a relief by taking certain actions; and regardless of whether a person is located in a country of their birth, their habitual residence, or a country of their parentage or ancestry.

De jure statelessness generally refers to the above circumstance.

This may happen because of a discriminatory nationality law. For example, a person born before 1983 to a Japanese mother and a non-Japanese father did not receive Japanese nationality. This created many stateless babies between Japanese women and American servicemembers stationed in Japan (often because they were conceived outside wedlock and the men had already left the mothers when the babies were born). Such children could not receive public benefits or schooling under Japanese law in force at that time.

More recent examples involve citizens of the former Soviet Union who came to the United States before December 25, 1991. While most Soviet citizens who previously resided in the Russian Federated Soviet Socialist Republic who are ethnic Russians could automatically receive the citizenship of the new Russian Federation, many Russians from another ex-Soviet republics were not able to receive citizenship of either Russia or another newly independent republic. Additionally, Eritreans who immigrated to another country before Eritrea gained independence from Ethiopia, former citizens of Yugoslavia, and Palestinians from outside West Bank or Gaza, may be de jure stateless.

In other circumstances, political dissenters or religious minorities may become stateless because of government actions taken in retaliation or persecution.

Another example is when a country requires an applicant for naturalization to renounce their previous citizenship or nationality in prior to applying for naturalization, and then the application is declined.

In some cases, a discriminatory national legislation or court ruling could cause statelessness. In 2013, the court of the Dominican Republic declared that children of Haitian immigrants who were born in the country are not citizens of the Dominican Republic. This action created a human rights crisis and international outcry, and ultimately the country’s legislative branch enacted a law to grant citizenship to those who possess a birth certificate in the Dominican Republic.

De facto statelessness refers to those who may have a legal claim to a nationality in a certain country but for practical or administrative reasons may not avail themselves to the protection of that country.

An example could include:

1. A citizen of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) in Japan. Since 1949 Japan has refused to recognize DPRK, and never officially recognized the nationality of DPRK citizens. Under Japanese law, they are treated as stateless Koreans (Chosen-jin) under a category distinct from citizens of the Republic of Korea (Kankoku-jin). Since DPRK has no embassy or consulate in Japan, the legal rights of such Koreans are extremely restricted.

2. Undocumented immigrants from certain countries. While countries such as Mexico and Guatemala actively work to protect their own nationals in the United States regardless of immigration status, people from many other countries are refused consular protection and services (such as passports) from their own countries. A few such countries even refuse to take back the undocumented immigrants when they are deported from the United States.

What rights do stateless persons have?

According to the United Nations, human rights are universal for all regardless of nationality or whether they are citizens of non-independent territories (a.k.a. colonies). The Universal Declaration of Human Rights enshrines the right of free movement, including rights to leave a country and to return to one’s own country. UDHR also enshrines the right of a person to be recognized before law.

In reality, however, stateless persons have very little rights. UDHR is just a declaration, and it is legally non-binding. In most countries, freedom of movement depends on having an identity document even for domestic travels (in the United States, flying commercial airlines or boarding an Amtrak train requires an ID; driving requires a driver’s license, which also requires some proofs of identity). Lack of passport or ID could land a stateless person in jail or immigration detention center, and prevents from being released for years or even lifetime.

A few countries issue a special travel document for recognized stateless persons. While such a document resembles a passport in appearance, its acceptance for international travel is generally limited. UNHCR also issues an identity paper (just a piece of paper).

A non-government organization World Service Authority also issues passports for stateless persons, with varied levels of acceptance around the world.

Recommended reading

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Categories geography, civics

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Photo credit: pixabay/adampaulclay cc0 public domain.

Link to video

Today we celebrate the last Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of the presidency of Barack Obama, the first person-of-color, African-American, and multiethnic U.S. president in history. Often a big dream seem formidable against all unsurmountable odds. Often a big dream sounds ridiculous, delusional, or impossible.

But it is still worth dreaming.

Today I’d like to introduce this song Aprende a volar (Learning to Fly) by Argentine singer (originally a heavy metal singer) Patricia Sosa. She will be 61 years old next week on Jan. 23, 2017.

(a rough translation of the lyrics)

Hard is the way and I know it’s not easy.
I do not know if there will be time to rest
In this adventure of love and courage
Just close your eyes and go flying

And when the heart gallops loud, let it out
There is no reason to overcome the passion, the desire to laugh

You can believe, you can dream
Open your wings, here is your freedom
And do not waste time, listen to the wind
Sing for what will come
It’s not so difficult for you to learn to fly.

Do not lose faith, do not lose your temper
Although sometimes this world does not ask for forgiveness
Scream although it hurts, cries if need be
Clean the wounds that heals love

And when the heart gallops loud, let it out
There is no reason to overcome the passion, the desire to laugh

You can believe, you can dream …
And do not rush the way, the end will come
Every light, every morning, everything waits in its place

You can believe, you can dream …

( Original Spanish lyrics is here )

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Panmunjom.
Photo credit: pixabay/pontamax cc0 public domain.

Human rights concerns regarding DPRK are often talked about in international community and by many non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

DPRK is obviously an impoverished country with very little resources. It is hardly a world superpower economically, militarily, or politically.

Yet, the country has survived since 1949. Why won’t their neighbors (South Korea, Japan, Russia, and China) and the United States just invade and carpet-bomb North Korea, kill Kim Jong Un, and occupy the country to set up a new government?

The reason why can be explained if you understand geopolitics.

Geopolitics is a discipline that grew out of geography. In particular, geopolitics understands the land as both natural features (mountains, environment, climate, bodies of water, etc.) and as a community of human culture and society (politics, religion, arts, languages, history, etc.). It analyzes both human features and natural features of a country or countries to understand the politics between and inside the nations or regions.

Diplomats, military strategists, and politicians rely on geopolitical analysis to shape international policies.

Let’s take geopolitics to the North Korean problem as an example.

What would happen if North Korea is invaded?

North Korea has about 24 million people, almost all of whom are ethnic Koreans who speak the Korean language. The population is concentrated on lowlands on the west coast (where there are large cities such as Pyongyang, Nampho, Kaesong, and Sinuiju). It is bordered with the People’s Republic of China to the north, separated by a narrow river called Amnok River (in Chinese, Yalu River), and with China and the Russian Federation to the northeast, separated by an even narrower river called Tuman River. To the south, there is the Republic of Korea (South Korea), separated by the heavily fortified Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). The distance between North Korean capital Pyongyang and South Korean capital Seoul is only 121 miles (195 km) — and the distance between two cities nearest to the DMZ (Kaesong, DPRK and Paju, ROK) is only 16 miles (26 km). The distance between the city of Sinuiju in North Korea and the city of Dandong in China is only 1 mile (1.6 km).

This situation creates a number of serious concerns to North Korea’s neighbors.

To China and Russia, they would be worried about the massive influx of North Korean refugees and migrants if their livelihood, homes, and food supplies are destroyed by war.

Furthermore, if the U.S. military and South Korean military would lead the invasion and reunification of North Korea with South Korea, that would mean that there may be American armed forces right within a stone’s throw of China and Russia — a scenario neither China nor Russia would particularly be fond of. To them, the maintenance of status quo in the Korean Peninsula means having North Korea as a buffer state to keep the rival superpower from coming too close to their own countries and be able to spy on them. Therefore it is to both Russia and China’s national interest to keep North Korea alive, despite international pressures to honor the UN economic sanctions on DPRK.

To South Korea, they would be worried about social instability caused by the collapse of North Korea. Despite it has been the official positions of both North and South to pursue an eventual reunification of Korea, it is definitely easier said than done. Although they belong to the same ethnic group and speak the same language, their cultures and even dialects have diverged sharply because of six decades of isolation from each other. Occasionally a few North Koreans would escape and eventually re-settle in South; helping them readjust to South Korean society has been already a major challenge — imagine having to do with with millions of people quickly. And who would pay for feeding starving North Koreans and helping them restore buildings and infrastructures? Aside from international aid, South Korean taxpayers would have to absorb lots of expenses — again, not something very popular with ordinary South Korean citizens.

To make it more complicated, DPRK reportedly has nuclear weapons and is developing even more. The last thing North Korea’s neighbors want is Kim Jong Un firing nuclear missiles (remember how physically close they are from North Korea).

These are just a small sampling of geopolitical concerns using North Korea as an example. In short, getting rid of North Korea is an extremely risky proposition and therefore maintaining the status quo has been the only workable solution for the last several decades.

Learn more about geopolitics

Free lecture (1 hour long)

What is geopolitics and why does it matter? by Ronald J. Granieri (Foreign Policy Research Institute)

Link to video

Free textbook (257 pages)

Introduction to geopolitics by Colin Flint (associate professor of geography, University of Illinois)

Download PDF or read in browser (uploaded by author)

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Categories geography, controversies

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Photo credit: British Museum of Natural History, pixabay/lauratutu cc0 public domain.

The week between (Western) Christmas and New Year’s Day, the week of Kwanzaa, or for this year, the Hanukkah week, is a kind of lazy time of the year where normal life schedule does not apply.

Some people travel to see their relatives, and some visit a variety of destinations.

But for those who would rather stay in bed, here’s a museum that fits right in your hand.

Did you know that Google publishes an Android app called Google Arts and Culture? It is free to download and use.

Every day, Google introduces users to a different set of fine art, history, archaeology, and other exhibits from over 1200 museums in 70 countries around the world. It even includes immersive virtual tours of museums and other historical sites, based on the Google Street View technology, in which you can take a walk through exhibits.

To explore Google Arts and Culture, download the app from Google Play.

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Categories world in your daily life, cultures

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