Founder & Story

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

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

My name is Ashley S. Kinseth, and I am the Executive Director and Founder of Stateless Dignity, as well as an international human rights lawyer and graduate of Columbia Law School.

On August 25, 2017, I found myself working in Maungdaw, Myanmar—the very day the humanitarian crisis erupted there, and soon to be the epicenter of mass atrocities against Myanmar's Rohingya population. Soon after, I was ousted from the region and, like all foreigners, no longer able to continue my work. 

Following my experiences there, 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 published several articles covering the Rohingya situation from an international legal perspective.  Among these are an op-ed I authored, labeling the situation of the Rohingya a "genocide" under international law, in an October 2017 Al-Jazeera English piece ("What's Happening in Myanmar is Genocide"), as well as op-eds and features in such publications as the Washington Post, the Dhaka Tribune, and Oxford’s Tea Circle.

Since being ousted from Myanmar, I remained consistently engaged with Rohingya friends and contacts on the ground as well as other activists, striving to stay in the loop, remain a part of the conversation, and provide whatever support I could from afar.  Yet despite these efforts, I found myself deeply frustrated by the enormity of the problems, yet dearth of truly viable solutions.  Receiving messages from countless Rohingya individuals on Facebook—virtually all containing pleas for help—became one of life's only constants. At times, I began to gain as many as 100 new friends per week, and nearly all with requests for personal, direct assistance.

Of these, perhaps one plea moved me the most, and might be called the inspiration for Stateless Dignity.  The individual's personal story was not so unlike many others I had heard, yet somehow sparked much inspiration: one young man who had stayed behind in Myanmar (not fleeing to the refugee camps of Bangladesh, as nearly one million others have now done) reached out to me on Facebook, asking for help.  His dream, he told me, was simple enough: all he wanted was to find a place where he could go to study "law and politics." Yet because he was not a Myanmar citizen with a passport—and because travel is barred for almost all Rohingya, even within the country—he had no idea how to pursue his dream.  Where, he asked, was a good place to go to study?  And how could he get there?

It was at that moment I fully realized that—quite frankly—I had absolutely no idea.  Surely, I knew the details of virtually every problem preventing his simple dream from becoming reality—and I could think of a few countries that might even 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.

With that in mind, and in the absence of any real answers—and while keeping in mind "realpolitik" constraints—I became determined to make solutions.  After much consultation, I thus founded Stateless Dignity, with the aim of advocating for 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, please see Our Work. And for a little more on my background as well as that the rest of the brains behind Stateless Dignity, please see Our Team.