Ghost Citizens

Decolonial Apparitions of Stateless, Foreign and Wayward Figures in Law

by Jamie Chai Yun Liew  

As nationalism and oppression of minority racialized groups proliferate globally, the plight of stateless people becomes ever more urgent. Legal scholar Jamie Liew explores what statelessness means as a shattering legal condition, lived experience and arena of powerful struggle for genuine justice.

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  • February 2024
  • ISBN: 9781773636665
  • 264 pages
  • $33.00
  • For sale worldwide
  • EPUB February 2024
  • ISBN: 9781773636788
  • $32.99
  • For sale worldwide
  • PDF February 2024
  • ISBN: 9781773636795
  • $32.99
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About the book

Ghost Citizens is about in situ stateless people, persons who live in a country they consider their own but which does not recognize them as citizens. Liew develops the concept of the “ghost citizen” to understand a global experience and a double oppression: of being invisible and feared in law. The term also refers to two troubling state practices: ghosting their own citizens and conferring ghost citizenship (casting persons as foreigners without legal proof). Told through an examination of law, legal processes and interviews with stateless persons and their advocates, this deeply researched book examines international and domestic jurisprudence as well as administrative decision making to show an emerging practice where states are pointing to a mother figure, constructed in law as racialized, foreign and potentially disloyal, to depict persons as not kin and therefore the responsibility of other states. By tracing British colonial legal vestiges in the case study of Malaysia, Liew shows how contemporary post-colonial, democratic and multi-juridical states deploy law and its processes and historical ideas of racial categories to create and maintain statelessness. This book challenges established norms of state recognition and calls for a discussion of ideas borrowed from other areas of law, including Indigenous legal traditions and family law, on how we should organize our communities with more respectful relations and treatment among kin.

Crime & Law Global Studies & Development Political Science Sociology

What people are saying

Yasmeen Abu-Laban, professor and Canada Research Chair in the Politics of Citizenship and Human Rights, Department of Political Science, University of Alberta

“Statelessness is a persistent, yet underexamined, feature of the modern world. Ghost Citizens powerfully responds to the scholarly lacunae through an illuminating analysis attentive to the voices, experiences and affective ties held by the stateless in Malaysia. Liew deftly tracks the many ways statelessness can be reinscribed by the state and broader society, and powerfully shows the wisdom of going further than the “law as text” to find resolution.”

Daiva Stasiulis, Chancellor’s Professor Emerita of Sociology, Carleton University

“Liew’s book is an eloquent exposition of the multitude of mundane, erratic and inconsistent state and non-state actions, and executive, judicial and administrative efforts that undermine citizenship recognition…Ghost Citizens is indispensable reading in a world where rights and benefits continue to require a full and recognized citizenship status and where so many persons of the ‘wrong’ face and race are positioned by law and practice in a rightless purgatory.”

Renisa Mawani,  Canada Research Chair, Colonial Legal Histories & Professor, University of British Columbia

“Using ‘ghost citizens’ as an incisive conceptual tool, Jamie Liew skilfully documents how statelessness is constructed through the material legacies of colonial laws. Focused on Malaysia, a country that has been understudied, Liew asks how British colonization created racial and ethnic identities that continue to be reproduced in contemporary discussions of citizenship. Ghost Citizens forcefully challenges popular and academic assumptions of what constitutes citizenship. This book is a must read for anyone interested in Malaysia, British colonialism, and in the politics of citizenship today.”


Jamie Chai Yun Liew

Jamie Chai Yun Liew is a professor, lawyer, novelist and podcaster. She penned the acclaimed novel Dandelion, which was longlisted for CBC Canada Reads 2023, and was the winner of the Asian Canadian Writers’ Workshop Jim Wong-Chu Emerging Writer Award 2018. She is the co-author (with Donald Galloway) of Immigration Law and Immigration and Refugee Law: Cases, Material, and Commentary (with Sharryn Aiken, Catherine Dauvergne, Colin Grey, Gerald Heckman, Constance MacIntosh and Emond Montgomery). She has appeared before the Supreme Court of Canada, Federal Court of Appeal, Federal Court and the Immigration and Refugee Board. She teaches, researches and writes on immigration, refugee and citizenship law, and how law not only marginalizes people but constructs them as racialized and foreign.


  • The Stateless: Wayward Foreign Ghosts
  • The State: Colonial Vestiges of Racial Citizens
  • The Law: The International Legal Construction of Ghost Citizens
  • The Citizen: Domestic Legal Construction of Ghost Citizens
  • Kin: Homegrown Stateless Persons
  • The Government Counter: The Discretionary Creation of the Stateless Person
  • The Spectacle: Performing Citizenship and State Benevolence
  • The Ghost Citizen


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