Maha Mamo was born in Lebanon to Syrian parents - but she is stateless. She came to Brazil in 2014 and is now finally on a pathway to citizenship.
I spent last week with Maha Mamo in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.
Maha is stateless. Her mum is Muslim and her dad is Christian. They are Syrian, where interfaith marriages are banned, and they fled to Lebanon to be with each other.
Maha, her sister and brother were all born in Lebanon - yet astonishingly they are not Lebanese.
Nationality law in Lebanon is clear: “A child is deemed Lebanese if the child is born of a Lebanese father”. As Maha’s dad is Syrian, he cannot hand down Lebanese citizenship to his children.
And that’s how Maha and her siblings were born without a nationality.
It’s a crazy situation which has left thousands of people in Lebanon stateless. They face serious discrimination: lack of access to education; not being able to own property, not being allowed to hold a driver's license or open a bank account; not being able to get married; and being forced to work illegally.
Maha’s story is filled with challenges, tragedy and hope.
Watch Maha tell her story in her own words.
There are over 10 million stateless people around the world, and a third of them are children.
This is a huge number of people, yet we hardly ever hear about their struggles. Statelessness is an invisible problem, and stateless people are too often shunned and ignored by the countries they were born and raised in.
The problem is caused by unjust laws that could easily be changed - if only governments have the political will.
Brazil is showing the way.
With a hefty amount of advocacy from Maha, Brazil is creating solutions for stateless people.
In 2017 Brazil brought in a new Migration Law which allows stateless people to seek recognition in Brazil and be granted residency rights. After just two years in Brazil stateless people can apply for citizenship. It is a fantastic achievement which will soon see many stateless people belonging to the nation of Brazil.
Maha hopes to be a citizen of Brazil by the end of the year - fingers crossed!
How to end statelessness, worldwide.
Maha says it’s really quite simple. Each country needs to assess the gaps in its laws that leave people stateless, and change them. For example, Lebanon should recognise nationality by birth in the territory, and give Lebanese women the right pass nationality onto their children. The fact that this isn’t already permitted is a gross injustice.
Brazil is showing that supportive countries can also play a role in providing pathways to citizenship - and other countries like Australia could do the same.
The largest numbers of stateless people reside in the Asia-Pacific region.
The Rohingya people from Myanmar make up 10 percent of the world’s stateless people, and they are being brutally persecuted by the Myanmar state.
Given how many of life’s doors have slammed shut on the Rohingya, it is little surprise many have taken dangerous boat journeys in search of safety.
Sadly, several Rohingya men are being held on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea, where their prospects for a brighter future seem bleak.
Australia needs to help create solutions, not put up barriers.
Australia could adopt similar legislation to Brazil - giving Rohingya and other stateless people a pathway to achieve Australian citizenship as quickly as possible.
I also think Australia could develop policy guidance on including stateless people in all visa categories to Australia - including skilled visas, which often rely on documentary evidence of identity which can be difficult for stateless people to produce.
The UN Refugee Agency UNHCR has a plan to end statelessness by 2024. That's a pretty ambitious goal but it's entirely doable - if governments only step up.