Avoiding detention of stateless persons: UNHCR's new tool for identification and enhanced protection of stateless persons in detention

Melanie Khanna, Chief of Statelessness Section and Madeline Garlick, Senior Legal Coordinator and Head of Protection Policy Legal Advice Section, Division of International Protection, UNHCR
/ 4 mins read

"Across the world, stateless persons face violations of their right to liberty and security. In some instances they have been in detention for years, not because they have committed a crime, but solely because they are not allowed to stay in the country and have nowhere else to go. If States don’t identify stateless persons and acknowledge their protection needs, such persons are at risk of repeated and prolonged detention. It is essential that States prevent and end this serious human rights violation.”

Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees

When carrying out detention monitoring visits, monitors may come across persons whose statelessness situation has not been properly identified or not identified at all. Many of these persons generally do not possess identity documents or valid residence permits, or are unable to return to their country of origin, they can be at high risk of arrest and repeated and prolonged detention.

To help prevent such situations, UNHCR developed – the tool “Stateless persons in detention, a tool for their identification and enhanced protection”. The tool was presented to the audience of the regional conference on "Protecting Stateless Persons from Arbitrary Detention” organized by the European Network on Statelessness on 4-5 May 2017 in Budapest, Hungary. Before its launch today, the tool benefitted from important inputs by experts in detention and statelessness.

This tool sets out a series of questions that can help in identifying persons in detention who may be stateless. It also provides guidance on follow-up steps, such as statelessness determination or nationality verification, support to post-release solutions and challenge of detention decisions. 

This tool maybe be used to identify stateless persons at any stage: before the decision to detain is made, when release in the community or referral to an alternative to detention are considered, or after the decision to detain has been made. The tool is intended for legal practitioners, decision makers and case workers who may be visiting detention places or are otherwise engaged in the asylum and migration process, including judges, border officials, staff of civil society organizations, UNHCR staff, as well as national human rights institutions and other national, international organizations that monitor immigration detention.

This tool has been developed under the auspices of UNHCR’s Global Strategy - Beyond Detention (2014-2019) and the #IBelong Campaign. With Beyond Detention, UNHCR advocates for and supports States to end the detention of asylum-seekers, refugees and stateless persons. Regular monitoring of immigration detention places is an important component of the Global Strategy. In 2014, UNHCR also launched a ten year Campaign to End Statelessness to draw attention to the plight of stateless persons and galvanize efforts of all of us to end statelessness. UNHCR’s Global Action Plan to end Statelessness sets out ten Actions to reach this goal. Part of organization’s advocacy efforts under the #IBelong Campaign in Europe is the call for the adequate identification of stateless persons.

In this regard, the tool comes as an important hands-on guidance to those carrying out the visits to detention centers, since UNHCR believes it is important to know that these persons are stateless. Not identifying them as such may affect negatively their recognition as refugees, their facilitated access to naturalization or to citizenship, or their protection on the grounds of their statelessness in the few countries that do grant such protection. Failing to find protection through any of these channels, stateless persons often end up with removal orders and in pre-removal detention, and then the waiting begins…

Prolonged and repeated detention of stateless persons is a concern in all regions, including in Europe. In Eastern Europe for example, stateless former Soviet citizens moving between successor States are repeatedly detained. Even stateless persons who have been in the same country for the last twenty years can be afraid to leave their village or their region because they know they risk detention. The prolonged detention of stateless former Soviet citizens throughout the successor States is with no doubt a very grave but one of the least known human rights violations in Europe.

UNHCR hopes it will be a useful tool for all the practitioners of any background who may be visiting detention places.

Related topics