The Tuareg rebels in northern Mali have declared independence last week, naming their would-be country Azawad. It becomes the newest member of a list of areas that consider themselves independent countries but are unrecognized or partially recognized by the other countries of the world. They include Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, Palestine, Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (Western Sahara), Somaliland, South Ossetia, and Transnistria.*
We can discuss and debate how each of these situations came to be and what should be done in an ideal or the real world. But we need to search out the best, most practical, way to handle them in our day-to-day business. For that practical determination, the most important point is that they are not recognized by most other countries. For the most part, mail addressed with these country names will be returned as undeliverable – no such country.
So, mainly, mail is addressed to the country “officially” ruling the area: Somalia for Somaliland, Morocco for Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (with some border areas controlled by the Sahrawi rebels that do not receive mail through Morocco), Israel for Palestine (with some exceptions for mail from countries bordering the Palestinian Territories), and so on. Whether the mail will reach its destination and with what delays depends on the particulars of the situation at the time the mail arrives. How the recipient reacts will depend on the individual’s political leanings.
Kosovo, as an internationally administered territory, and Taiwan, formerly recognized the government of China, are in slightly different situations. Kosovo receives mail from the approximately 85 countries that recognize it and some others will send mail to the UN Mission in Kosovo. Taiwan receives mail through countries with bi-lateral or multi-lateral agreements to ship or forward mail.
Check your database for sensitive destinations. Then check with the postal authority in the country where you will mail to confirm the destination country name. If you are using a remailing service, the origin is the country where the mail will enter the postal system.
* The list would be much longer if all the potential independence movements were included: There are hundreds of groups on all the continents in Scotland and Kurdistan, Basque Country and Aceh, Rapa Nui and French Guiana, Guam and Faroe Islands…