Ahead of the 25th May debate in the Dutch parliament on new draft legislation on statelessness, our Dutch members analyse the proposed laws, their impact on stateless communities in the Netherlands and the improvements that are needed.
I [also] got the feeling that our humanity and rights were not being recognised when we arrived in the Netherlands in 2018. We were hopeful that we could get our rights here and finally could be safe. But our first asylum application was rejected. An employee of the Repatriation and Departure Service then told us that the Royal Forces could arrest and deport us, even in the asylum centre. We felt like hunted criminals. Our statelessness was never taken seriously.”
This is the story of Rami, his wife Tamara and their three children [read their full story and that of other stateless people in the Netherlands here]. Their situation and that of other stateless people in the Netherlands will be addressed in Parliament Wednesday 25th of May 2022, when new draft legislation on statelessness will be discussed for approval. This day has been a long time coming. In both 2011 and 2013, critical research reports on statelessness in the Netherlands were published by UNHCR and the Dutch Advisory Council on Migration (ACVZ). In 2014, the government of the Netherlands subsequently pledged that they would put in place new legislation, including a Statelessness Determination Procedure (SDP). The introduction of new legislation on statelessness is an important step in the right direction. However, without a few necessary amendments, the proposed laws will not provide a solution for all stateless people on the territory.
What new laws are being discussed?
Two legislative proposals on statelessness are being discussed in the Dutch Parliament:
- A legislative proposal for a Statelessness Determination Procedure. This law will introduce a procedure to have statelessness determined by a Civil Court. At the moment, statelessness can only be identified as part of an administrative procedure for the purpose of a registration in the local municipality. This administrative procedure is only available to ‘lawfully’ resident stateless people. The proposed SDP will allow for explicit identification of statelessness and will be open to all stateless people (including those without lawful residence) on the territory who wish to have their statelessness identified. For clearly defined cases of ‘evident statelessness’, the possibility for statelessness determination by administrative bodies, such as the municipalities, will continue to exist (see here joint submission as part of the recent internet consultation on ‘evident statelessness’).
- A legislative proposal to amend the Dutch Nationality Act to expand the ‘option procedure’ for stateless children born in the Netherlands without a residence permit to have access to a facilitated pathway to acquiring Dutch nationality. Dutch law currently requires stateless children to lawfully reside on the territory for three years’ before they are able to opt for Dutch nationality. This new law will make it possible for stateless children born in the Netherlands without a residence permit to also acquire Dutch nationality. They will, however, need to fulfil additional, requirements that we argue are discriminatory.
Need for improvement
The current legislative proposals fall short in addressing the situation of all stateless people in the Netherlands. This has also been brought to the attention of Parliamentarians in 2021 through a joint statement of 27 civil society organisations and individuals. We highlight some of the key concerns below:
- The current draft law for an SDP will not provide a residence permit after statelessness is determined. By not addressing the need for a residence permit, the current draft law would leave stateless people without ‘lawful’ residence in prolonged limbo and vulnerable to arbitrary detention. This is contrary to UNHCR guidance (UNHCR, Handbook on Protection of Stateless Persons (2014)) and to the practice of most European countries with an SDP. The storytelling report shared above tells the stories of stateless people without a residence permit in the Netherlands and illustrates the importance of a solution for their situation.
The endless waiting has destroyed me.” - Anas, stateless Palestinian from Saudi Arabia
“After the [asylum] rejection I ended up on the street in the Netherlands. In 2009 I was placed in immigration detention for the first time for four months. I ended up in immigration detention three times in total. The last time, in 2018, I felt the same as when I had to flee Myanmar. I didn't feel safe, my life was hopeless.” - Mansur, stateless Rohingya from Myanmar
- The current draft law to amend the Dutch Nationality Act expands the right to opt for Dutch nationality in the ‘option procedure’ to stateless children born in the Netherlands without a residence permit. However, the child would need to have enjoyed a stable, principal residence for a period of at least ten years (compared to three years ‘lawful’ residence for children with a residence permit). The child and their parent(s) must have continuously and fully cooperated with the immigration authorities, including in the context of deportation proceedings, for residence to be considered stable. This additional requirement of ‘stable residence’ is not allowed under the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness and is contrary to the principles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
- Lastly, after statelessness determination according to the proposed SDP, barriers to naturalisation remain in place. Stateless people with a residence permit can apply for facilitated naturalisation after three years of ‘lawful’ stay at a lower cost. While the foreign passport requirement is waived for naturalisation, a birth certificate is still required (except for stateless people with an asylum permit). Moreover, because statelessness determination does not result in a residence permit, naturalisation would remain out of reach for stateless people without a residence permit.
What is next?
On the 25th of May, points that were raised during the first plenary debate on the 5th April will be discussed further, and it is expected that a formal vote will follow shortly afterwards on whether the proposed laws should pass. This vote will also include voting on the amendments that have been proposed by various members of Parliament. It is encouraging that some of the issues mentioned above will be addressed, such as the lack of a residence permit after statelessness determination and wanting to adapt the option procedure to require only 5 years of principal residence (hence removing the ‘stable’ requirement). However, it is uncertain if these amendments will be supported by a majority within Parliament. The second part of the debate on the 25th of May will also serve as a moment for the Secretary of State to respond to questions raised by Parliamentarians during the first debate. Sadly, many of these questions are based on misconceptions that establishing an SDP with a residence permit could constitute a ‘pull factor’, as well as worries about potential ways in which the new laws can be used for fraudulent means. Practices in other European countries with statelessness laws in place indicate that these concerns are unfounded (more on this here), and we hope that in the upcoming debate the protection of stateless people and resolving their statelessness takes centre stage.
The debate can be followed live on Wednesday May 25 at 10:15 CET via https://www.tweedekamer.nl/.