The position of International law is that no person should be stateless. The problem of Burma today is the alienation of the Rohingya ethno-linguistic group who also happen subscribe to the Islamic faith.
Many Burmese citizens see them as migrants despite the fact that many have children, grandchildren and great grandchildren who were born in Burma. Such people cannot go back to any other place and call it home.
This problem is not restricted to Burma and the UN should extend its preventive diplomatic arm to countries like The Gambia where many people reside who are born in The Gambia but whose parents or grandparents were not born in the Gambia or whose parents are not citizens of The Gambia.
Countries that are free from the crises of citizenship have a proper system of registration of birth and death. Hence everybody born in a country is registered at birth and is deemed citizen by birth. That is not the case in The Gambia. In The Gambia citizenship by birth is linked to descent. We will explain in subsequent issues.
Secondly, those who come to reside in a country are registered and given residential permits. They are given a number of years of residence and could apply for naturalisation as citizens if they have lived normal lives as any other citizen. Under the 1970 Constitution 7 years residence was required. Under the 1997 Constitution the period is increased to 15 years. Unfortunately, there are many people in The Gambia who have been resident in The Gambia for decades without being informed how they could naturalise and be citizens. They have homes, children, grandchildren and great grandchildren , businesses, bank accounts and cannot go anywhere else to live normal lives but do not possess any documents confirming their naturalisation as citizens. A national debate should start right away on how they should be prevented from being stateless. In many countries such people get citizenship by special measures that lead to registration to prevent statelessness of parents and their offspring are often found in high places in the social ladder in such countries.
Furthermore there is citizenship by descent. In short, in many countries, once a citizen has a child abroad he or she could automatically acquire citizenship by descent. Women were discriminated in the past but that has been remedied under Gambian law to prevent discrimination on the basis of gender.
There is also citizenship by registration through marriage. Under the 1970 Constitution there was no timeframe to be resident in the Gambia to apply for citizenship based on marriage. Under the 1997 Constitution 7 years is established as the residential qualification to apply for citizenship.
What is important as we engage in this debate on citizenship is for each Gambian to be bound by the dictates of conscience, reason and justice so that we would strive to have a law on citizenship that would result in the expulsion of any human being from the Gambia who has no state to return to like the Rohingya ethno- linguistic group.