While a positive step in the right direction, the new bills do not go far enough in resolving the issues experienced by stateless people in the Netherlands
Most European countries still lack an effective procedure to be able to identify and determine whether an individual is stateless and grant them protection. Without a dedicated statelessness determination procedure (SDP) that is fair, efficient, and easily accessible, stateless people cannot access their rights.
In the Netherlands, where civil society has been pushing for the introduction of an SDP for over a decade, this means that tens of thousands of stateless people face daily discrimination, the threat of detention, and rights violations. However, after years of joint advocacy by ENS members and partners, on Tuesday 31 May, the Dutch Parliament passed two bills on statelessness.
What is changing?
The first bill paves the way for the introduction of a judicial procedure to determine statelessness. The second modifies various other laws including an amendment to the Dutch Nationality Act to allow stateless children without legal residence in the Netherlands to opt for Dutch nationality after five years’ ‘stable and habitual’ residence.
But, while a positive step, the bills do not go far enough in resolving the issues experienced by stateless people in the Netherlands and much work remains to be done. Importantly, the proposed procedure to determine statelessness does not lead to residence, or other rights. Other aspects of the procedure also fall short of international norms and good practice too. The requirement that stateless children have ‘stable and habitual’ residence to opt for Dutch nationality is also not in line with international standards.
The bills will now go to the Senate, before entering into force. One of the most critical things now is to raise awareness of the changes to the law. We will continue to work alongside communities affected by statelessness so that they know about the new procedure and their rights.
In the longer term, one opportunity to address some of the remaining shortcomings is the built-in resolution that requires an external evaluation after five years of the new procedure to determine statelessness. Together with our members we will closely monitor how this works in practice and continue to gather data for our Statelessness Index, which assesses countries against international norms and good practice. This should give clear recommendations for actions needed to improve the protection of stateless migrants and refugees and end statelessness in the Netherlands.
This is a heartening reminder that change is possible, but it also underscores that continued work by civil society organisations is needed to ensure countries are held to account when their reforms fall short of international norms and good practice.