Senegalese rap group Bideew Bou Bess is calling attention to the plight of those who are stateless with their new song “I belong.”
According to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), there are over 10 million people around the world who have fled their homes and been rendered stateless or without nationality.
The song is part of a UNHCR campaign to eradicate statelessness, which the international organization says leaves people vulnerable to abuse and exploitation, including slavery and prostitution.
The song’s music video features a young boy who is denied access to basic services such as education and shelter – highlighting the fact that 60 percent of all stateless people are children.
Speaking at a studio in the Senegalese capital Dakar, the popular band made up of three brothers Moctar, Ibrahima and Baidy Sall talked about the inspiration behind the song.
“We wanted to make a modest contribution in highlighting the issues of statelessness, to sound the alarm so that our leaders can ratify conventions and help stateless people, because a stateless person is a person who does not legally exist, and if you do not exist, you can do absolutely nothing. So as activists in a sense, we decided to talk about statelessness for the world to know,” said band member, Moctar Sall.
According to the UN, around one million people are stateless or at risk of statelessness in West Africa.
Lacking identification documents, they have limited access to education, healthcare, employment and land. They are also more exposed to discrimination and abuse because they are not recognized in the eyes of the law.
Conflict in Central African Republic and Boko Haram in Nigeria has also forced hundreds of thousands to find refuge throughout the region.
Most recently, statelessness has also contributed to the flow of migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean and reach Europe in rickety boats in search of a better life.
“Life needs to start with being recognized, having papers, knowing whether you’re Senegalese, or French, or Belgian. We saw that this was a serious problem and that we had to talk about it first in Senegal, but then our research showed that there are 10 million stateless people in the world and that it was not just a regional or sub-regional phenomenon, it was global,” added Moctar.
“Music is a lever of communication because music speaks to everyone, just like sports. So music is strong because everyone listens to it and it is a good medium for communication. We are artists and we launch messages, we question, we identify issues, we raise awareness,” he said.
According to UNHCR, nine states in West Africa in conjunction with civil society have elaborated action plans to eradicate statelessness.
Five other States firmly committed themselves to the fight against statelessness since the adoption of the Abidjan Declaration.
The Abidjan Declaration was adopted on 25 February 2015 by the Member States of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and underlines, among other things, the vital need for the States to ensure that everyone within the region has a recognized nationality.