Protecting the rights of stateless people

Stateless people face the risk of rights violations every day, from destitution and denial of basic services to immigration detention. Many are separated from their families. The reason for this is that most European states have yet to put in place procedures to identify stateless people and provide them with a route out of limbo and the chance to rebuild their lives.

Can you imagine what your life would be like if you were stateless?

Support our work to ensure governments protect the rights of stateless people.


Although almost all European states have signed up to international law standards on the protection of stateless people, most still lack effective national frameworks to put these commitments into practice. This has left many people facing discrimination and rights violations daily.

The solution to this problem is straightforward. What is required is political will. States need to set up statelessness determination procedures as a regularisation route for stateless people who would otherwise be stuck in indefinite limbo.

Encouragingly some countries have recently taken positive steps towards this goal. Our Statelessness Index provides in-depth information and analysis on how countries in Europe are performing against their international commitments in this area (and others). The Index compares what countries are doing to identify and protect stateless people, including whether they have a dedicated procedure in place and how it stands up to scrutiny against international norms and good practice in areas such as procedural safeguards, evidentiary assessment, appeal rights, protection status, and acquisition of nationality. The Index highlights some good practice, but it also demonstrates that there is much still to be done.


Want to find out how your government protects stateless people? Use our online tool to compare and assess what European countries are doing in this area.

Find out more

What needs to be done?

  • 1954 Convention: States that have not yet acceded to the 1954 Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons should do so without reservations, and those with reservations should withdraw these.
  • Introduce statelessness determination procedures: States should introduce dedicated statelessness determination procedures (SDPs) in line with UNHCR guidance and good practice so that they can fulfil their obligations to stateless people under the 1954 Convention.
  • Grant residence permits: all stateless people should be granted a (temporary) residence permit upon application for stateless status. A route to permanent residence should be granted when recognised as stateless, and this should provide a clear pathway to facilitated naturalisation so that stateless people can resolve their statelessness.
  • Protection from arbitrary detention: if a country has no statelessness determination procedure, stateless people are at particular risk of arbitrary immigration detention because they end up caught between having no country to return to and no route to regularise their stay. By putting in place an SDP, improving the identification of statelessness, and ensuring access to effective remedies to challenge immigration detention, arbitrary and unlawful detention can be avoided.
  • Training and capacity-building: to ensure an SDP is working as intended and the 1954 Convention is being upheld, it is vital that officials in charge of decision-making on statelessness are trained, have access to the resources they need to make good quality decisions, and that regular independent audits are carried out of SDP decision-making.

I live day by day, not knowing what the future will bring.

Sarah, stateless woman living in the Netherlands

Our work on the issue

Chris Nash, handing our petition for protection of rights of stateless people
ENS Director, Chris Nash, handing our petition calling for all European states to introduce a statelessness determination procedure to Cecilia Wickstrom, Chair of the European Parliament’s Petitions Committee

Our pan-European campaign calling for improved protection for stateless people

In 2014, we ran a pan-European campaign to improve the protection of stateless people in Europe. Timed to coincide with the 60th anniversary of the 1954 Convention, the campaign brought together a wide range of stakeholders and sought to highlight through the voices of those affected by statelessness in Europe, the devastating impact of being left in limbo due to the lack of protection mechanisms. Our online petition attracted over 7,000 signatures and culminated in a day of action against statelessness across Europe on 14 October 2014 when the petition was handed to European leaders. You can read a summary of impact here. We continue to prioritise this issue in our advocacy towards national governments and regional institutions, including the Council of Europe as described here.

Statelessness INDEX – assessing how countries perform and monitoring progress

Despite the scale of the problem, countries across Europe have very different approaches to dealing with statelessness, which means that there is no consistent, clear or comprehensive approach to identifying people without a nationality, granting protection or nationality, nor preventing new cases of statelessness from arising. What’s more, it’s very difficult to find information that is clear, up-to-date, and succinct. To fill this gap, we launched our Statelessness Index in 2018, which for the first time assesses a country’s approach against international norms and good practice and enables instant comparison between different countries in the region. We designed the Statelessness Index to allow users to quickly understand which areas can be improved by states and which can be looked to as examples of good practice. The Index is updated each year, and we’re continuing to add new countries, so check back regularly for updates.

Statelessness Index website
The Statelessness Index is an online comparative tool that assesses how countries in Europe protect stateless people and what they are doing to prevent and reduce statelessness

Key resources

Read our briefings, reports and other publications on protecting the rights of stateless people.

Full list of publications