Founder & Story

Rohingya children at play in the waters of Myanmar’s Northern Rakhine State, shortly before the Rohingya Refugee Crisis.  Ashley S. Kinseth, July 2017.

Rohingya children at play in the waters of Myanmar’s Northern Rakhine State, shortly before the Rohingya Refugee Crisis. Ashley S. Kinseth, July 2017.

My name is Ashley S. Kinseth, and in April 2018, I founded the Stateless Dignity Project.

My first introduction to statelessness was in 2013, when I worked in Myanmar’s conflict-prone Northern Rakhine State (NRS). At the time, NRS was home to a majority Rohingya Muslims: A marginalized minority with no citizenship who nonetheless considered Myanmar home, and NRS their ancestral homeland. Their neighbors were predominantly Rakhine Buddhists: the State’s namesake, yet a minority in this northernmost territory.

Since then, Myanmar, NRS, and my Rakhine and Rohingya friends and colleagues in the region grew ever closer to my heart. Although I worked on and returned to Myanmar in various capacities over the next few years, in early 2017, I opted to make NRS my home.

Tragically, however, on August 25, 2017, an attack by a small group of Rohingya militants prompted a brutally disproportionate government counteroffensive, culminating in a crisis that ultimately drove over 700,000 refugees into neighboring Bangladesh, where virtually all remain to this day. Within days, I and virtually all other foreign workers vacated the region, and have never been allowed to return.

Following these experiences—and having witnessed firsthand the Myanmar government’s wildly discriminatory treatment and violence toward its Muslim minority—I strove to find ways to continue supporting the Rohingya and other stateless groups like them around the world, who suffer gravely for their lack of citizenship.  Initially a "keyboard warrior," I have since published numerous articles covering the Rohingya situation from an international legal and humanitarian perspective.  

After being ousted, I also remained consistently engaged with Rohingya friends and contacts on the ground as well as other activists, striving to stay in the loop and provide whatever support I could from afar.  Still, despite these efforts, I found myself deeply frustrated by the enormity of the issues coupled with a lack of viable solutions.  Receiving pleas for help from countless Rohingya individuals on Facebook became one of life's only constants, and at one point, I began to amass as many as 100 new friends per week—nearly all with requests for personal, direct assistance.

Of course, attending to these became not only unmanageable, but also an ineffective support strategy. Nonetheless, among these, one plea moved me the most, and might even be called the inspiration for the Stateless Dignity Project.  That personal story was not so unlike many others I had heard, yet sparked much inspiration. The plea came from a young man in Myanmar who was among the relative few who had opted not to flee to Bangladesh.  His dream, he said, was simple enough: to study "law and politics." Yet because he has no citizenship in Myanmar or any form of documentation to travel abroad—and because travel even within the country and even between villages/townships remained prohibited for almost all Rohingya—he had no idea how to pursue his dream.  Where, he asked, was a good place he could go to study?  And how could he get there?

It was at that moment I fully realized that, frankly, I had absolutely no idea.  Surely, I knew the details of virtually every issue relating to the Rohingya crisis that prevented his simple dream from becoming reality, and I could even think of a few countries that might welcome him—if only he could make it there. But I hadn't a clue as to how to make it happen. Worse, it seemed, no one else did either.

Our joint inability to resolve such seemingly senseless injustice struck me as unconscionable, and I thus became determined to help make solutions.  After much consultation, I founded the Stateless Dignity Project, with the aim of advocating for and pursuing the rights, safety, and human dignity of stateless people—like this would-be student—around the world.

To learn more about our mission, the work we do, and the strategies we employ, we invite you to have a look at Our Work. And for more on my background as well as that of the rest of the ample brains behind SDP and its work, we invite you to have a look at Our Team.