Stateless refugees and migrants
Statelessness is often overlooked in asylum and migration debates. It is a hidden but very real issue affecting thousands of refugees and migrants in Europe. While European countries are increasingly encountering stateless people in their asylum systems, their legal frameworks, policy and capacity to identify, record and determine statelessness are lacking.
People affected by statelessness risk discrimination and rights violations if their nationality problems are not properly addressed in international protection procedures and in the provision of essential services. Yet, most countries in Europe are inadequately prepared to respond.
Of the 5.5 million people who applied for asylum in the European Economic Area in 2013-2019, over 145,000 were recorded as stateless or of unknown nationality. On average, around 3% of first-time asylum applicants are recorded as being stateless or of unknown nationality. Many more refugees come from countries where gender discrimination, gaps in nationality laws or deprivation of nationality results in statelessness. This includes countries like Syria, Iraq, Somalia, Iran, Eritrea, and Sudan.
The fact that an asylum applicant may be stateless is often critical when assessing their claim for international protection. Being stateless not only impacts on the initial assessment of the claim, it can also affect access to procedures such as family reunion, resettlement, or naturalisation because stateless refugees are unlikely to have documentary proof of identity and family links.
Europe is not doing enough to uphold and protect the specific rights of stateless people in international law, and it is also producing new cases of statelessness, because gaps in states’ nationality laws mean that children are still being born stateless in Europe. Only half of European States have full safeguards in their nationality laws to prevent childhood statelessness.
To protect the rights of stateless people on the move, their nationality problems must be identified and acted upon. But this rarely happens. Only a handful of European States have legal frameworks in place to determine statelessness and grant stateless people protection.
What needs to be done?
- Better identification and decision-making: registration and decision-making authorities need information, guidance, and capacity-building to improve the identification of statelessness, to inform decision-making (e.g. country of origin information on statelessness), and to improve referrals between relevant procedures to ensure stateless people access the rights they are entitled to.
- Protection for stateless people: European countries that don’t yet have them need to introduce dedicated procedures to determine statelessness and grant protection (including residence, rights and a route to nationality) under the 1954 Convention.
- Information and legal aid: refugees and migrants affected by statelessness and nationality problems need information and legal advice in formats and languages that are accessible and relevant to them to ensure they are aware of and can access their rights.
- Child’s right to a nationality: the nationality rights of refugee and migrant children must be upheld by guaranteeing that every child’s birth is registered and they receive a birth certificate regardless of the identity or status of their parents; and that full safeguards in nationality laws are established and implemented to grant nationality to children born on a country’s territory if they would otherwise be stateless.
- Flexible procedures: to ensure stateless people do not face discrimination in access to procedures such as family reunification, resettlement or naturalisation, these must be flexible and adaptable to the particular circumstances of stateless people who may not have a birth certificate, identity documents, or proof of family links.
In the Netherlands, the Municipality employees asked me why I don’t have a passport. I explained my story and they just looked confused. [...] After some months of repeating this all many times, eventually they registered me as “stateless.” The funny thing is that I came here after the government agreed for me to join my father who was already in the country. They knew already that he was stateless. I don’t understand why it was so confusing for them that I was too.
Our work on the issue
#StatelessJourneys – Addressing statelessness in Europe’s refugee response
We know that European countries are encountering stateless people in their asylum systems. Our #StatelessJourneys website exposes gaps, identifies solutions, and provides evidence-based tools to support advocacy to secure the rights of stateless refugees and migrants.
In 2017, ENS and the Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion (ISI) together set out to examine the relationship between statelessness and forced migration in Europe, to build links with refugees affected by statelessness, and to find out what refugee response actors in Europe were doing to address the issue.
The #StatelessJourneys initiative has generated an evidence base and tools for advocacy, capacity-building, awareness-raising and community engagement, to protect the rights of stateless refugees and prevent new cases of statelessness arising in the migration context in Europe. The #StatelessJourneys knowledge hub hosts information and tools about how statelessness affects people’s journeys, including country of origin information, information about relevant stakeholders, case studies outlining the main issues, country briefings, webinars, information leaflets, and more. The hub will be updated with new tools and publications as they are produced.
Joint action to address statelessness in forced migration responses
We are working with our members and partners on the ground across Europe to build links with refugees affected by statelessness, deliver capacity building workshops for refugee response actors, advocate for better law, policy and practice, and foster new collaborations. We've published translated leaflets for refugees and asylum seekers affected by statelessness in different languages, as well as a leaflet and poster for refugee response actors with information about how statelessness may be affecting refugee journeys.
We have organised information sessions on statelessness for asylum actors on Lesvos, workshops with refugee community representatives in Athens, and delivered a range of advocacy interventions, including presentations at conferences, meetings with decision-makers, and workshops across the region to highlight what needs to change to ensure stateless refugees can access their rights.
We are delighted that we have secured funding from Comic Relief that will enable us to develop this work further over the next four years. The new funding will allow us to work with our members in more countries (including the UK, Spain, France, Belgium, Sweden, Bulgaria, Ukraine, the Czech Republic, Malta, Greece, the Netherlands, and Albania) to take forward several joint activities at national level, including capacity-building with frontline refugee response actors, webinars, community engagement activities, research, campaigning, communications, and advocacy.