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Citizens of the Metaverse

Inspired by a recent BBC World Service report on statelessness, we take a look at the issue of people who are not considered as a citizen of any country or state, and who are without nationality, and the potential for the Metaverse to provide a virtual refuge for these people.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), at least 10 million people in the world are stateless. Denying people nationality means that they often aren’t allowed to go to school, see a doctor, get a job, open a bank account, buy a house or even get married. In November 2014, the UNHCR launched its #IBelong Campaign with the goal of ending statelessness within 10 years. As we near the 2024 deadline, there was still, according to the UNHCR Refugee Data Finder, an estimated 4.3 million stateless people in mid-2022.

Could the Metaverse, or more specifically, virtual nations, provide a future refuge for stateless people, by providing nationality to those not considered as a citizen of any country or state. “Virtual citizenship”, a relatively new concept, in the form of a commodity that can be acquired through the purchase of real estate or financial investments, subscribed to via an online service, or assembled by peer-to-peer digital networks, is a relatively new concept that already exists. However, as these virtual citizenship options have become available, they’ve also been used, like many technologies, to exclude those who don’t fit in. Take the “golden visa”, relatively recent innovation pioneered in the Caribbean, which allows people to trade citizenship for cash by setting a price on passports. If foreign nationals invest in property above a certain price threshold, they can buy their way into a country and beyond, once they hold a citizenship and passport.

The BBC World Service report discussed the plight of the Bedoons, a population of Kuwaiti citizens who have been denied full citizenship rights by the Kuwaiti government. This community, estimated to be around 100,000 people, have been living in Kuwait for generations but have been denied citizenship due to various reasons, including lack of documentation and political considerations.

The situation of the Bedoons has been a source of controversy in Kuwait for many years. In 1985, at the height of the Iran–Iraq War, the Bedoon were reclassified as "illegal residents" and denied Kuwaiti citizenship and its accompanying privileges. They are denied access to many basic rights and services, such as education, healthcare, and the right to vote. They also face significant barriers to employment and are often forced to work in low-paying jobs.

The Bedoons have been fighting for their rights for many years, but their efforts have often been met with resistance. In recent years, the government has started to deport some of the Bedoons to other countries, further exacerbating their plight. The lack of citizenship rights has had a significant impact on the Bedoons' lives. They face discrimination and marginalization in many areas of life and have limited access to essential services. This has led to a high level of poverty and unemployment among the community.

There have been calls from various human rights organizations and other groups to grant the Bedoons full citizenship rights, but the government has yet to take any meaningful action. In, 2016, the Comoros Islands, a small archipelago off the coast of Mozambique, expressed interest in a deal that would grant Comorian citizenship to the Bidoon population in return for aid from the Kuwaiti government. While the deal never went through it opens the possibility for virtual nations in the Metaverse, funded by a combination of self-generated revenue, charities and countries, to embrace the world’s 4.3 million stateless people and, through government deals, provide them with access to education, healthcare, and the right to vote in a fully-immersive virtual world.

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Belinda Fewings/Unsplash

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