Belarus taking the express road to serfdom

Europe's last dictator is considering drastic measures to keep workers in the country's wood-processing industry from quitting to take better paying jobs in Russia:

 "A decree is being prepared that says that until the end of the planned modernization and reconstruction of [wood-processing] enterprises [in 2015], workers are forbidden from quitting their jobs," Lukashenka announced during a visit to the Barysaudrev wood-processing plant in Barysau, a bleak industrial city about 40 kilometers northeast of Minsk, on November 30. "Workers cannot quit their jobs without the agreement and permission of the management of the enterprise."

He added that workers who left their jobs despite the warning would be sentenced to compulsory labor and returned to the production line.

Forcing people to work -- why has no one thought of this idea before?

VIKTOR DRACHEV/AFP/GettyImages

Passport

Stateless in the United States

Article 15 of the Universal Declarion of Human Rights declares that "Everyone has the right to a nationality." But all the same, as many as 12 million people around the world are not a citizens of any country. According to the UNHCR:

Among the causes of statelessness for these individuals are that their countries have dissolved and they have not acquired citizenship in any of the successor states, or there are incompatibilities between different legal regimes that have left them with out a nationality. In other cases, statelessness may be the result of discriminatory laws or practices or in some cases even punitive or malevolent treatment. 

A new report from the agency looks at statelessness in the United States. Though there are no solid statistics on the total stateless population, between 2005 and 2010 around 628 stateless people applied to the U.S. asylum court and around 1,087 presented themselves as stateless in immigration courts. Stateless people in the United States are generally former Soviet citizens who never obtained citizenship in any of the new states, immigrants from the former Yugoslavia, Eritreans who came to the U.S. as Ethiopian citizens, or Palestinians born in other Middle Eastern countries. 

As a signatory to the 1954 U.N. convention on statelessness, the U.S. cannot legally expel stateless people "save on grounds of national security or public order." But, for a variety of reasons, many are also unable to obtain citizenship, leaving them in permanent legal limbo. The UNHCR is pushing for U.S. immigration authorities to create special procedures to help stateless people obtain citizenship, apart from the normal asylum system. 

There are also some downright bizarre cases, such as Mikhail Sebastian -- featured in the video above -- who has been stuck in American Samoa since December, 2011. Sebastian is an ethnic Armenian born in then-Soviet Azerbaijan, who came to the U.S. fleeing ethnic violence and anti-gay discrimination in 1995, without ever having established citizenship in any of the new post-Soviet states. After he overstayed his visa, U.S. authorities reluctantly allowed him to remain in California with the warning that if he left the United States, he would be unable to return. But on a trip to American Samoa last year -- Sebastian's travel options are limited -- he inadvertantly took a side trip to independent Western Samoa, leading U.S. authorities to say he had self-deported and refusing to allow him to fly back to the mainland. His weeklong tropical vacation has turned into a year-long Kafkaesque nightmare.

Statelessness may be rare in the United States -- and stories like Sebastian's are notable mostly because they're so out of the ordinary -- but it's still a reminder of how dangerous life without a passport in a world of nation-states can be.