“Everyone has the right to a nationality”

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What is statelessness?

A stateless person is someone who has no nationality. They are not Japanese, not Cuban, not Danish, not Ugandan – they do not enjoy the legal bond of nationality with any state. International law defines a stateless person as someone “who is not considered as a national by any state under the operation of its law” (Article 1 of the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons).

Imagine what life would be like if you did not have a passport and were not considered to belong anywhere. Stateless people face numerous difficulties in their daily lives: they can lack access to health care, education, employment opportunities, property rights and the ability to freely move around across borders. It may be impossible to get married, open a bank account or get a driving license – many of the things that most people take for granted.

Statelessness occurs for a variety of reasons. These include discrimination against minority groups in nationality legislation, failure to include all residents in the body of citizens when a state becomes independent (state succession) and conflicts of laws between states. Some stateless people are victims of a deliberate policy by their state to deny or strip them of nationality, while others have been left stateless by an unfortunate set of circumstances and have simply been overlooked under the laws which confer nationality.

Today, statelessness is a massive problem which is estimated to affect over 10 million people, including 600,000 in Europe alone.

Who is stateless in Europe?

Among the millions of stateless people worldwide it is estimated that there are more than 600,000 in Europe alone.

The causes of statelessness in Europe vary. The dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 led to large scale statelessness in the Baltic states and in Eastern Europe. Today, more than 370,000 people lack a nationality in Estonia and Latvia.

There are believed to be some 225,000 people recorded as stateless or with undetermined nationality in Eastern Europe. They include people with expired Soviet passports who have not been able to acquire the nationality of the state in which they reside since the break-up of the Soviet Union.

In the countries that once made up Yugoslavia, groups of people fell between the cracks created by new nationality laws and became stateless. Though many have managed to establish their nationality, members of minority groups such as the Roma in South Eastern Europe, continue to face difficulties accessing the documents necessary to confirm nationality. Throughout Europe, gaps in nationality legislation continue to create new situations of statelessness.

In addition there are stateless persons who have migrated ot Europe but have become stranded in limbo – often after having been refused asylum. There is a lack of accurate data on total numbers in this position – in part due to the fact that few European states have in place dedicated procedures to identify who is stateless on their territories.

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