On Statelessness: 6 Principles to Consider When Conducting Country of Origin Information Research

Laurence Hamieh, Asylos
/ 5 mins read

A research project on statelessness undertaken by Asylos revealed a significant need for improvement in the coverage and quality of Country of Origin Information (COI) on statelessness. This blog post provides an overview of the findings and outlines the six principles established to enhance the study of COI research on statelessness.


Problems seen in Country of Origin Information (COI) include inadequate definition of statelessness, lack of visibility and information on stateless people, lack of coverage of the needs of people who are stateless or at risk of statelessness and their rights under international law, and lack of attention to the root causes of statelessness. 

Asylos developed 6 principles that are intended to contribute to improving the quality of COI research on statelessness and support the fair adjudication of international protection and statelessness claims.

Principle 1: Be Clear on What Statelessness Is and Who it Affects

The 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons provides a baseline definition of statelessness: a stateless person is someone ‘who is not considered as a national by any State under the operation of its law.’.Currently, 96 countries are Parties to this Convention, and this definition is also considered customary international law. However, the definition is interpreted and applied differently in different countries, which has led to conflicting perspectives regarding whether certain persons or groups are considered to be stateless. In addition, as highlighted by the European Network on Statelessness’ 2021 Thematic briefing, not all countries have a specialised statelessness determination procedure. 

Therefore, it is crucial to build an accurate picture of how statelessness is understood and ascribed (or not) to different groups in the country of habitual residence or the country the person has a link to. This can be achieved by establishing whether the country of research is a Party to the 1954 Convention, how and whether statelessness is defined in the domestic law of the country, and understanding who may, or may not be, recognised as stateless by authorities and why. A further step would be to establish whether members of a stateless group identify themselves as stateless. Lastly, it’s important to establish which groups of stateless individuals, and/or groups at risk of statelessness are relevant to include within the scope of your research. 

Principle 2: History and Root Causes Matter

It is necessary to identify the root causes of statelessness in an individual’s case, whether it is state succession, gender discriminatory laws, discriminatory citizenship laws and policies, or another cause. Identifying the historical circumstances and root causes of statelessness not only helps you understand the difficulties people affected by statelessness experience today, but also how laws, policy frameworks and practices have affected the situation of a stateless individual over the relevant time period. 

Principle 3: Terminology is Key 

A pivotal step when conducting COI research on statelessness is establishing the relevant terminology. Terminology can be used inconsistently, and therefore as a researcher you should pay attention to the context in which it is used. Relevant terms on statelessness in a country of habitual residence can be in the spoken language of the country, and terms may carry highly specific meanings relating to the status of a particular stateless group. For example, Asylos' report on Palestinians in Lebanon revealed that statelessness is not defined in Lebanese law.  There is no generic term for stateless Palestinians in Lebanon, although there are a number of specific terms that may be ascribed to stateless Palestinians in Lebanon, depending on which institutions they are (or are not) registered with, whether they have documentation, and whether they are Palestinians displaced from Syria. 

While it is important to understand the relevant terminology within your research, it is also important to recognise and acknowledge the limits of terminology in a particular context, as many people may be stateless or at risk of statelessness even where this is not identified in the absence of relevant terminology. Taking this approach, you can develop an understanding of the relevant terminology describing statelessness in the country of habitual residence (or the absence of local terms to describe statelessness), while taking into account the designations of different stateless groups in relevant languages and the specific meanings that these terms carry. It’s important to set out the relevant terminology clearly in reports.

Principle 4: No Single Experience of Statelessness

It is vital to understand that people are affected by statelessness in different contexts, and for different reasons. People within the same community are likely to experience statelessness in different ways, for example, other aspects of a stateless person’s identity, such as their sexual orientation or gender identity, class, age, and physical or mental ability will also play a role in the level and types of discrimination that they may experience. 

Therefore, in conducting COI research on stateless persons, it is important to assess how a person’s statelessness intersects and interacts with different aspects of a person’s identity and other potential sources of social disadvantage, to better understand the discrimination they may face and the protection gaps they may experience and how these factors may change over time. 

Principle 5: Illustrate What the Law Says, and What Happens in Practice

Understanding relevant laws and policies provides useful insight into the frameworks that govern the situation of people affected by statelessness. Therefore it is necessary that you seek and include updated COI on relevant laws and policies, without forgetting, when salient, how these laws and policies evolved in a way that affects the situation of stateless people. 

However, awareness on the law and policies alone is not enough. Illustrating i how these laws and policies are being implemented in practice is necessary, as law, policy and practice can sometimes diverge.

Principle 6: Include the Voices of Stateless People

Stateless people often lack visibility, and their voices are often marginalised. This means that COI researchers and legal representatives often lack access to important information that is only available through the lived experience of statelessness.

On that account, it is of high importance to include the voices of stateless people in your COI research. This can be achieved through proactively reaching out to stateless people or organisations working on statelessness in the relevant region,  and seeking out and prioritising the inclusion of sources that draw on the voices of people with lived experience of statelessness. A great guideline for this is the European Network on Statelessness’s External Community Speaker Policy, which is co-designed with persons affected by statelessness and offers best practice advice on how to engage and work with community speakers. 

It is Asylos’ hope that these 6 principles will encourage COI researchers, legal representatives and decision-makers alike to take a more holistic and informed approach to determining statelessness and protecting stateless persons. 

This blog post distills main findings from Asylos' statelessness principles document. To access the full document, click here.

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