Ensuring nationality rights

Statelessness occurs for a variety of reasons – discrimination against minorities, state succession, conflicts of laws between states, or even deliberate policies by states to strip people of nationality. Statelessness pushes people to the margins of society and puts them at risk of discrimination and human rights abuses. It is essential that Europe recognises and addresses this issue by protecting everyone’s fundamental right to a nationality.

After 20 years of living without nationality, my life changed a lot [since I was granted permanent residence as a stateless person], everything changed. I started to work just like normal people. I have some money, I can buy things for my kids, finally I don’t need to hide anywhere....

Natalia, stateless woman living in Slovakia

Statelessness is a major human rights concern in Europe (and around the world), yet for far too long it has been ignored, with relatively little known about its causes, consequences and the people affected.

Statelessness is a legal anomaly that affects over half a million people in Europe. Stateless people often lack access to fundamental civil, political, economic, cultural, and social rights. This includes both recent migrants and those who have lived in the same place for generations. It also increases the risk that people experience poverty, marginalisation, exploitation, and arbitrary immigration detention.

Europe’s reluctance to tackle the issue is partly responsible for creating a situation in which thousands of children are still being born in Europe without a nationality. Whether inheriting their statelessness from stateless parents or being the first in their family to experience statelessness, they have never known the protection or sense of belonging that a nationality bestows. They are the victims of flawed nationality laws.

There is also an increasing trend of States instrumentalising nationality, treating it as a privilege, or using nationality stripping as a tool of punishment, often offering justification on national security or counter-terrorism grounds. As this worrying trend grows, people who are members of minority groups, human rights defenders, or suspected terrorists, for example, can all face an increased risk of being deprived of their nationality and rendered stateless. Campaigners and advocates are beginning to shine a light on this vital issue, which undermines everyone’s nationality rights.

Meeting with the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatović, to talk about Europe's obligation to ensure the right to a nationality
ENS staff and members meeting with the Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatović, to discuss Europe's obligation to ensure the right to a nationality.

What needs to be done?

  • International obligations: States that have not yet acceded to the core statelessness conventions (1954 Convention, 1961 Convention, European Convention on Nationality, and Convention on the Avoidance of Statelessness in relation to State Succession) should accede to these instruments without reservations, and those with reservations should withdraw them.
  • Effective protection: States should commit to concrete actions to address statelessness and introduce strong legal frameworks to identify and protect stateless people, ensuring that this includes a facilitated route to naturalisation to give effect to their right to a nationality.
  • Prevention and reduction: States should enact and implement full legal safeguards to prevent and reduce statelessness. Other actors should seek to identify protection gaps and actively advocate for legal and policy solutions to statelessness.
  • Access to justice: stateless people should have access to justice and to effective remedies. Decision-makers should be able to identify (risks of) statelessness, implementing thorough assessments of vulnerability and considering statelessness as a juridically relevant fact in procedures related with statelessness or impacting on stateless people.
  • Deprivation of nationality: states should align their laws, policies and practices with their international legal obligations in relation to the deprivation of nationality, in line with relevant international instruments and the Principles on Deprivation of Nationality as a National Security Measure.

Our work on the issue

Advocating through UN human rights mechanisms

As it is fundamentally a human rights issue, one of the ways in which we seek to tackle statelessness is through advocacy and engagement with human rights mechanisms. In partnership with the Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion and our national members, we have made over 25 submissions to the UN’s Universal Periodic Review mechanism, as well as other bodies and monitoring mechanisms, such as the Committee on the Rights of the Child, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, and the Committee on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women.

ENS attending the UN Global Refugee Forum in Geneva
ENS attending the UN Global Refugee Forum in Geneva

Litigating for change

Another key component of our work has been the continued development and implementation of our strategic litigation strategy. Working with our members, ENS supports legal challenges with the purpose of developing and effectively implementing the right to a nationality and the human rights of stateless people, as protected in national, European, and international law. We regularly organise dedicated litigation workshops and trainings to support and widen the pool of lawyers working on statelessness, and we also provide funding to members to identify cases suitable for strategic litigation and take those forward. ENS further supports this work through our groundbreaking work to develop a litigation database that can be used by practitioners and lawyers working on statelessness issues, and which is scheduled to be launched in 2021.

ENS litigation workshop
ENS litigation workshop attended by members of the litigation working group in Brussels

Key resources

Read our briefings, reports and other publications on ensuring nationality rights. 

Full list of resources