“Everyone has the right to a nationality”

Greece moves one step closer to introducing an effective statelessness determination procedure

14 April 2016 | Erika Kalantzi, Attorney at Law
Greek Parliament

Greek Parliament’s initiative to provide a legislative framework for the adoption of a statelessness determination procedure is welcome news. Once introduced the procedure should give all stateless persons, whether residing in the country legally or otherwise, access to an effective and appropriate protection.

While the legislative text adopted on 1 April doesn’t set a deadline for the adoption of the procedure, article 7 (paragraph 7, Law 4375/2016) provides a legal basis for the full implementation of the 1954 Convention on the Status of Stateless Persons. One of the most positive aspects is the fact that the responsibility for the determination of the status of stateless persons will be placed with the Greek Asylum Service.  Established in 2011, the Asylum Service and its personnel is trained and supported by UNHCR and EASO. The quality of the work done so far by the Asylum Service gives hope that the new procedure will be implemented in a fair and efficient manner.

Short history of statelessness in Greece

While the first nationality provisions were adopted in Greece in 1835 it’s only in 1927 that the Greek citizenship law provides for the possibility of acquisition of the Greek citizenship by persons who are not holders of a “foreigner citizenship”.

In the aftermath of the 1922’s Asia Minor disaster and the consequent exchange of Greek and Turkish populations (in the context of the Lausanne Treaty) Greece decided to grant the Greek citizenship to the children of Armenians and Circasians, who came to the country between 1920 and 1923, and were born in Greece. At the same time, Greece adopted for the first time legislation allowing deprivation of the Greek citizenship for persons not of Greek origin who leave the country without the intention to return back. This provision was firstly applied to Greeks of Armenian origin when in the 1940’s they asked for permission to leave for Armenia. As a result, in the 1950’s when they came back to Greece, where some still had family, they found out that they were deprived of their Greek citizenship. As at that time Greece was not contracting party to the 1954 Convention on the Status of Stateless Persons, Greek Authorities decided to grant residence permits to these individuals because they had family ties with Greece.

The 1927 provision for the deprivation of Greek citizenship from persons not of Greek origin was transposed into the 1955 Greek Code of Citizenship (Article 19) and it has been mainly applied to the members of the Muslim minority of Thrace. The provision was abolished in 1998 and the Greek Authorities were obliged to regularize the residence of members of this minority who became stateless. At that time Greece had already ratified the 1954 Convention on the Status of Stateless Persons and the Ministry of Public Order decided (by internal circular) its direct implementation. Thus, it granted identity papers (provided in article 27 of the Convention) and travel documents (provided in article 28 of the Convention) to the persons who became stateless.

Lack of a dedicated statelessness determination procedure

Meanwhile, in the 1990’s Greece started receiving migrants. Among them were persons from former USSR Republics. Some of them, while residing legally in Greece as family members of their Greek relatives, became stateless because they were not living in their countries of origin when the latter adopted new citizenship legislation. In the aftermath of the break up of the USSR, many faced serious problems with the renewal of their residence permits, because possession of valid national passport was an absolute requirement for the submission of the relevant application (according to Law 2910/2001). Some of the individuals requested the Ministry of Public Order (authority responsible for the issuance of the 1954 Convention Travel Documents) the issuance of travel documents granted to stateless persons. Their applications were treated in a positive way in cases where the applicant could prove that they were not considered citizens of the country where they were born in. In fact, in these cases the statelessness certificate issued by the authorities of their countries of origin was the key document for the positive decision of the Ministry of Public Order. In this context, it should be underlined that no specific procedure was applicable for the determination of their statelessness status. In fact, the issue of these travel documents was a practice implemented since the mid 1990’s in a few cases only and it was based on the Annex of the 1954 Convention, as the applicants already had residence in Greece, mainly as family members of Greek citizens.

Another crucial problem was that the authority of the Ministry of Public Order (now Ministry of Interior) to issue the 1954 Convention Travel Documents was not based on a legislative text, adopted by Parliament and published in the Official Gazette. It was based on an unpublished internal circular by the Police Authorities. In addition, stateless persons, who did not have legal residence in Greece, could not claim the issuance of a Convention travel document, mainly because the national legislation did not provide for the determination of their status. Therefore, not all the persons concerned could have access to this procedure.

In this context, considering the issuance of specific legislative text that will provide for the procedure to be implemented for the determination of the status of stateless persons (paragraph 7 of article 7 of Law 4375/2016) is a positive development for their protection in Greece.  

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