“You must belong to a state, you did not just fall from the sky!”

Anja Klug, Head of Office at UNHCR Office for Switzerland and Liechtenstein
/ 3 mins read

UNHCR launched the #IBelong campaign in November 2014 with the goal to end statelessness by 2024. Within this context, the UNHCR Office for Switzerland and Liechtenstein published this week a study on the situation of stateless persons in Switzerland. One of the mapping’s key message is that Switzerland could make more efforts to achieve the goals set by the international community for 2024.

The quoted statement used for the title was, according to one of the interviews with a stateless person conducted in the context of the study, made by a Swiss official to a stateless person. It was chosen as a subtitle for the study since it reflects the anomaly that statelessness represents in a world governed by states.   

Facts and Figures

The number of people recognised as stateless in Switzerland has steadily increased in recent years, albeit in small numbers. According to the statistics of the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) a total of 592 people in Switzerland were officially recognised and registered as stateless at the end of 2017. Most came from Syria, China, Russia or the former Soviet Union, often to apply for asylum.  Only few stateless people were born in Switzerland. By the end of September 2018, the number of recognized stateless people increased to 606.

In addition, stateless people may also be registered in other statistical categories, such as “Without nationality” and “State unknown”. At the end of 2017, a further 788 and 1493 persons respectively were included in these categories. The overall number of stateless persons in Switzerland is, therefore, unclear. 

UNHCR’s main findings and recommendations  

1) Improving identification and recognition of stateless people in Switzerland

Switzerland belongs to the first signatories of the 1954 Convention on the Status of Stateless Persons. Recognized stateless individuals are granted most of the rights defined in this Convention. However, due to a restrictive recognition practice which is not always in line with international law, many stateless people are not recognized as such and do not have access to these rights. In addition, in contrast to the asylum procedure, the statelessness recognition procedure is based on general administrative law which is not necessarily adapted to the specific situation of stateless persons. Swiss law does not guarantee individuals who apply for recognition as stateless the right to an oral hearing and assistance, nor a permission to stay for the duration of the procedure. This as well as inadequate knowledge about statelessness among key actors, contribute to an insufficient identification of statelessness in Switzerland.

UNHCR, therefore recommends bringing the decision practice in line with international standards and best practice, introducing specific provisions for the statelessness recognition procedure and raising awareness about the situation of stateless people among public authorities, especially at cantonal level, but also other key actors and improve access to information for individuals who may be stateless.

2) Facilitating the reduction of cases of statelessness

Contrary to the obligations under the 1954 Convention simplified naturalisation for stateless persons only exists for children. However, even children have to fulfil many requirements if they want to benefit from simplified naturalisation, which means that the procedure is rarely used.

To address these problems effectively, UNHCR recommends that the Swiss authorities consider reducing requirements in line with the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness and the corresponding European Conventions and ratifying these Conventions which already applies in many European neighbour states.

Next steps

To draw attention to the half-point of the #IBelong campaign, an international high-level event organised by UNHCR will take place in Geneva in October 2019. This will provide the community to mark the results achieved and to address remaining gaps. This high-level event will offer an excellent opportunity to present progress made or planned by Switzerland, and thus set an important sign for ending statelessness worldwide.

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