Protesters love their country. But, just as in any family that has a relative with self-destructive habits, protestors want their country to change for the better. Their way of doing it is by forcing an intervention. Refugees are different. They mostly love their country and would remain but are forced by circumstances, usually life threatening, to leave against their will. Asylum-seekers are those seeking protection from persecution. Migrants on the other hand move to find a better life. Sometimes migrants move temporarily, seasonally, or permanently[1]. We are not refugees or migrants, or even vagabonds. We are travellers, moving from place to place as seafarers and rootless wanderers.

The question remains, what are your options if you want to leave your country? To emigrate and eventually set up in another country? In theory I could sail 12 miles offshore and declare her a nation state. In practice, if my boat is Federally registered in the United States it is technically US sovereign territory. I have no idea what that buys me, except perhaps rescue by the Navy.

If you’re a first-worlder with an attitude and some cash, you could establish a micronation. One such is Sealand off the Suffolk coast of England. Until 1987, this relic of World War II stood in international waters, outside the jurisdiction of the UK government. Then the UK extended its territorial boundary from three miles offshore to twelve. Nonetheless, Sealand holds onto its claim as a principality and is today largely ignored.

A more modern effort called ‘seasteading’ seeks to establish habitats outside the jurisdiction of any government. Think Waterworld but without Kevin Costner as an aquatic Mad Max. The founders of the Seasteading Institute have a long history of PowerPoint presentations and a short history of actual construction. In part this is because countries often claim jurisdiction well beyond the nominal 12-mile limit.

Not all seasteaders are nation builders. Some are simple libertarians trying to get out from under the thumb of the man. Just last year Chad Elwartowski and Supranee Thepdet, aka Nadia Summergirl, moved into what they claimed was the world’s first seastead. Flush with Bitcoins, they had a designer floating home constructed by Ocean Builders and located it 12 miles off the coast of Phuket, Thailand. Just outside Thai jurisdiction. Well, at least that’s what they thought they had done.

The Thai Navy took a different view and sent in a corvette to arrest the couple for breaching Section 119 of the criminal code. The section concerns any act that threatens Thailand’s sovereignty or ‘deterioration of the state’s independence’. The punishment is death or life imprisonment. Whichever comes first. Chad and Nadia got wind of their pending incarceration and fled. A series of YouTube videos adds context to the drama: Seasteaders

Still, life on the open ocean confers no rights. Two hundred or more miles offshore you are outside every nation’s jurisdiction. Co-founder of the Seasteading Institute Patri Friedman points out, [you have] “ZERO rights, other than what you yourself can enforce with your diplomatic, economic, and military power, against anyone (like a nation-state) who you bother in any way.” Even international law isn’t much help.

In effect you join the ranks of the world’s 3.9 million stateless people. The UNHCR defines ‘stateless’ as: “a person who is not considered as a national by any State under the operation of its law.” For comparison both Greece and Portugal have populations of around 10 million. Statelessness can result from racial policy, status as a refugee, or an accident of birth. The consequence is stateless people are excluded from all the things that citizens take for granted. Things like opening a bank account, access to health services, starting a business, the most basic institutions of modern society.

There is some hope. Estonia created something called e-Residency. e-Residency doesn’t give the holder the right to live in Estonia, but they can start and run a business there, subject to financial oversight (to prevent money laundering and fraud). While modest in scale, as a proof of concept Estonia’s program is a bold experiment in virtualizing sovereignty.

[1] There is no legal definition of a migrant, which leads to confusion at times. There’s a nice piece by Amnesty International that discusses this: Refugees asylum-seekers and migrants

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