The history of the human race is a continual struggle from darkness towards light. It is, therefore, to no purpose to discuss the use of knowledge; man wants to know, and when he ceases to do so, he is no longer man.

Fridtjof Nansen

How can stateless people cross borders?

DW Documentary

After the end of the First World War, millions of people in Europe became stateless refugees. A newly devised passport created by the League of Nations’ High Commissioner for Refugees was their salvation.

In the aftermath of the First World War, more than two million people fled the Russian Revolution and the Armenian massacres. To prevent them from returning to their home countries, their respective governments revoked their citizenships. These permanent exiles had no choice but to start anew elsewhere and spread out around the world. To deal with this fraught situation, Norwegian diplomat Fridtjof Nansen, the League of Nations’ first High Commissioner for Refugees, worked hard to create a passport for these "stateless" persons. The so-called "Nansen Passport" was introduced on 5 July 1922. It was a symbolic document that made history as the first international legal instrument for the protection of refugees. This identity card and travel document allowed them to enter all the member states of the League of Nations at a time when many European states were closing their borders because of fascism, anti-Semitism and war and paying increasing attention to the legal status of both residents and foreigners. Famous artists such as Anna Pavlova, Vladimir Nabokov, Marc Chagall, Igor Stravinsky and Robert Capa, as well as more than a million other stateless persons, mostly refugees from Russia and the Ottoman Empire, received these precious passports. States have not used collective deprivation of citizenship as a weapon since 1945, but the UN General Assembly did not officially ban it until 2012.
Published on Apr 21, 2019

42:25 minutes