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In law, statelessness is the lack of any nationality, or the absence of a recognized link between an individual and any state.

A stateless person is defined as someone who is "not considered as a national by any state under the operation of its law".[1] Some but not all stateless persons are also refugees, not all asylum seekers are stateless and many persons who are stateless have never crossed an international border.[2]

Stateless person

A stateless person is someone who is "not considered as a national by any state under the operation of its law".[3] A stateless person has no citizenship or nationality.

As a matter of international law, citizenship and nationality are congruous, although there may be differences between the two concepts in domestic law.

Causes of statelessness

Conflict of law

The causes of statelessness around the world are numerous.[4] Conflict of nationality laws can be a cause of statelessness. Nationality is usually acquired through one of two modes: jus soli or jus sanguinis.

  • Jus soli ("right of the soil") denotes a regime by which nationality is acquired through birth on the territory of the state. This is common in the Americas.
  • Jus sanguinis ("right of blood") on the other hand is a regime by which nationality is acquired from birth through descent – usually through a parent who is a national.

Today, many states apply a combination of the two systems.

Gender discrimination

Although many states allow for acquisition of nationality through parental descent irrespective of where the child is born, many still do not allow their female citizens to confer nationality to their children.[5]

There are 27 countries in the world that do not grant equal rights to women in passing on their nationality to their children.[6] This may result in statelessness where the father is stateless, unknown, or otherwise unable to confer nationality. There have, however, been recent changes in favor of gender neutrality in nationality laws including successful law reform processes in Algeria, Morocco and Senegal which can inform promoting change elsewhere.

(This includes Algeria’s amended Nationality Code repealing the limitations on Algerian mothers’ ability to confer nationality on their children, replacing them with an overarching provision granting Algerian nationality to all children born in or outside Algeria to an Algerian mother or father without distinction.[7])

Moreover, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women[8] prohibits sex discrimination in conferral of nationality.

An important measure to avoid statelessness at birth is to provide nationality to children born on the territory who would otherwise be stateless. This norm is stipulated in the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness[9] and appears in several regional human rights treaties, including the American Convention on Human Rights, the European Convention on Nationality, and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, and is implicit in the Convention on the Rights of the Child.[10]


In most large scale statelessness situations, statelessness is a result of discrimination. Many States define their body of citizens based on ethnicity, leading to the exclusion of large population groups.

This violates international law against discrimination. Indeed, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination on October 1, 2014 states that the "deprivation of citizenship on the basis of race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin is a breach of States’ obligations to ensure non-discriminatory enjoyment of the right to nationality".[11]

State succession

In some cases, statelessness is a consequence of state succession.[12] Some people have become stateless when their state of nationality ceased to exist, or when the territory on which they live came under the control of another state. This was the case when the Soviet Union disintegrated, and also in the cases of Yugoslavia and Ethiopia.[13][14][15]

Administrative obstacles

People may also become stateless as a result of administrative and practical problems, especially when they are from a group whose nationality is questioned. Individuals might be entitled to citizenship but unable to undertake the necessary procedural steps; they may be required to pay excessive fees for documentation proving nationality, required to provide documentation that is not available to them, to meet unrealistic deadlines or face geographic or illiteracy barriers.

In disruptive conflict or post-conflict situations many people may find that difficulties in completing simple administrative procedures are exacerbated.[16]

Such obstacles may also affect the ability of individuals to complete procedures such as birth registration, fundamental to the prevention of statelessness in children. Whilst birth registration alone does not confer citizenship on a child, the documentation of place of birth and parentage is instrumental in proving the link between an individual and state for the acquisition of nationality[17] The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in 2013 estimated that 230 million children under the age of 5 still have not been registered.[18]

Not holding proof of nationality – or being "undocumented" – is not the same as being stateless but the lack of key identity documents such as a birth certificate can lead to a risk of statelessness. Many millions of people live their entire lives without documents, without their nationality ever being questioned.

Two factors are of particular importance:

  • whether the nationality in question acquired automatically or through some form of registration
  • whether the person has ever been denied documents on the basis that he or she is not a national.

If nationality is acquired automatically the person is a national regardless of documentation status (although in practice the person may face problems accessing certain rights and services because he or she is undocumented, and not because he or she is stateless).

If registration is required then the person is not a national until that process has been completed.

As a practical matter, the longer a person is undocumented, the greater the likelihood that he or she will end up in a situation where no state recognizes him or her as a national.


In rare cases, individuals may become stateless when renouncing their citizenship (e.g. "World Citizen" Garry Davis). People who subscribe to Voluntaryist, Agorist or some other philosophical, political or religious beliefs may desire or seek statelessness; however, many states do not allow citizens to renounce their nationality unless they acquire another. However, consular officials are unlikely to be familiar with all citizenship laws of all countries, so there may still be situations where renunciation leads to effective statelessness.

Non-state territories

A final cause of statelessness is non-state territories. As per the definition of a stateless person, only states can have nationals. As a result, people who are "citizens" of non-state territories are stateless. This includes, for instance, occupied territories where statehood has ceased to exist or never emerged in the first place; the Palestinian Territories are the most prominent example. Others are Western Sahara and Northern Cyprus (depending on the interpretation of what constitutes statehood and sovereignty).

While statelessness has existed for several centuries, the international community has only been concerned with its eradication since the middle of the twentieth century: in 1954 the United Nations adopted the Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons[19] which provides a framework for protection of stateless persons. Seven years later, the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness was adopted,[20] which contains provisions to prevent and reduce statelessness. In addition, a range of regional and international human rights treaties guarantee a right to nationality, with special protections for certain groups including stateless persons.

Those states bound by the 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child are obligated to ensure that every child acquires a nationality:[21] the Convention requires states to implement this provision in particular where the child would otherwise be stateless, and in a manner that is in the best interests of the child.[22]

The status of a person who might be stateless is ultimately a matter of the viewpoint of the state with respect to the individual or a group of people: in some cases the state makes its view clear and explicit; in others the viewpoint of the states is harder to discern.

In those cases one may need to rely on prima facie evidence of the view of the state, which in turn may give rise to a presumption of statelessness.[23]


Before World War II

The status of slaves and inhabitants of conquered territories in the Greco-Roman world of antiquity is in some ways analogous to contemporary statelessness. In antiquity, "statelessness" could be seen to affect captive and subject populations denied full citizenship (see Roman citizen) including those enslaved (such as conquered populations excluded from Roman citizenship such as the Gauls immediately following the Gallic Wars, or Israelites under Babylonian captivity).

Some characteristics of statelessness could be observed among apostates and slaves in Islamic society (the former shunned for rejecting their religious birth identity, the latter being persons separated from that identity and subsumed into an underclass).

Statelessness used to characterize the existence of Romani people whose traditional nomadic lifestyles meant that they traveled across lands claimed by others.

The Nansen International Office for Refugees was an international organization of the League of Nations in charge of refugees from 1930 to 1939. It received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1938. Nansen passports, designed in 1922 by founder Fridtjof Nansen, were internationally recognized identity cards issued to stateless refugees. In 1942 they were honored by governments in 52 countries.

Many Jews became stateless before and during the Holocaust, because the Nuremberg laws excluded them from German citizenship.

After World War II

The United Nations (UN) was set up in 1945, immediately after the end of World War II.

From its inception the UN had to deal with the mass atrocities of the war, including the huge refugee populations across Europe, and to address the issue of nationality and legal status issues of refugees in Europe the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) of the UN requested the Secretary-General to carry out a study of statelessness in 1948.

In 1948, the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR) was adopted. This provides both for a right to asylum (article 14) and a right to nationality (article 15). The UDHR also expressly prohibited arbitrary deprivation of nationality, something which had affected many of the war-time refugees.

In 1949, the International Law Commission included the topic "Nationality, including statelessness" in its list of topics of international law provisionally selected for codification. At the behest of ECOSOC in 1950, that item was given priority. In 1950 the ECOSOC appointed an ad hoc Committee on Refugees and Stateless People to draft a convention that would address the problems faced by refugees and stateless persons, including their legal status. A treaty on refugees was prepared with a draft protocol addressing the status of stateless persons.

The Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees was adopted on 28 July 1951, later attracting the signatures of 145 state parties as of late January 2005.[24] Since the International Refugee Organization – the predecessor to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) – was in the process of being dissolved, the 1951 Convention was adopted without inclusion of the Protocol addressing statelessness.

The International Law Commission at its fifth session in 1953 produced both a Draft Convention on the Elimination of Future Statelessness, and a Draft Convention on the Reduction of Future Statelessness. ECOSOC approved both drafts. Following these developments in both human rights law and refugee law, the UN eventually adopted in 1954 the Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons.

The 1954 Statelessness Status Convention provided a definition of a stateless person (which has since become part of customary international law, according to the International Law Commission), and sets out a number of rights that stateless persons should enjoy. The Statelessness Status Convention thus became the basis for an international protection regime for stateless persons. In order to ensure that the rights foreseen in the Convention are extended to stateless persons, States need to be able to identify stateless individuals through suitable procedures.[25][26]

Seven years later – only one year after the 1954 Convention entered into force – the UN adopted another convention on statelessness, namely the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness.

Following a series of expert meetings, UNHCR issued a Handbook on Protection of Stateless Persons in 2014.[27]

Stateless refugees covered by the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees should be treated in accordance with international refugee law: as of 1 September 2015, 86 States are party to the 1954 Convention, up from 65 when UNHCR launched its conventions campaign in 2011.[28]

Statelessness since 1961

On 13 December 1975, the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness entered into force. The 1961 Convention provides a number of standards regarding acquisition and loss of nationality (including automatic loss, renunciation, and deprivation of nationality).

In 1974, the UN General Assembly (UNGA) requested UNHCR to undertake the functions foreseen under the Statelessness Reduction Convention. While the 1961 Convention had only 37 States Parties on 1 January 2011, 33 States pledged to accede to the Convention at the Ministerial Event organized by UNHCR in December 2011. As of 1 September 2015 the number of State Parties had increased to 64.[29]

Starting in 1994, the UNHCR Executive Committee (ExCom) and the UNGA requested UNHCR to broaden its activities concerning statelessness to include all states.[30][31] In 1996 UNHCR was asked by the UNGA to actively promote accessions to the 1954 and the 1961 conventions, as well as to provide relevant technical and advisory services pertaining to the preparation and implementation of nationality legislation to interested states.

An internal evaluation released in 2001[32] suggested that UNHCR had done little to exercise its mandate on statelessness. Only two individuals were tasked with overseeing work in that area at UNHCR headquarters, though some field officers had been trained to address the issue. The evaluation also noted that there was no dedicated budget line.

Concerned organisations such as the Open Society Justice Initiative and Refugees International have advocated for more human and financial resources to be dedicated to statelessness within UNHCR.[33] In 2006 a Statelessness Unit (now Section) was established in Geneva and staffing has increased both in Headquarters and in the field. In the context of an overhaul of UNHCR’s budget structure in 2010, the budget dedicated to statelessness increased from approximately USD 12 million in 2009 to 69.5 million in 2015.[34]

In addition to regular staff in regional and country offices, UNHCR also has seven regional statelessness officers. They are located in Dakar, Senegal for West Africa; Nairobi for Eastern Horn of Africa; Pretoria, South Africa for Southern Africa; San José, Costa Rica for the Americas; Bangkok, Thailand for Asia and the Pacifics; Almaty, Kazakhstan for Central Asia; Brussels, Belgium for Europe and Amman, Jordan for the MENA region.

In 2004, ExCom invited UNHCR to pay particular attention to situations of protracted statelessness and explore with states measures that would ameliorate the situations and bring them to an end.

In 2006, ExCom provided UNHCR with more specific guidance on how to implement its mandate on statelessness. The Conclusion on the Identification, Prevention and Reduction of Statelessness and the Protection of Stateless Persons requires UNHCR to work with governments, other UN agencies, and civil society to address this problem.[35] UNHCR's activities are currently categorized as identification, prevention, reduction, and protection.

UNHCR has achieved some success in launching campaigns to prevent and reduce statelessness among formerly deported peoples in Crimea, Ukraine (Armenians, Crimean Tatars, Germans, and Greeks who were deported en masse at the close of World War II). Another success has been the naturalization of Tajik refugees in Kyrgyzstan, as well as the participation in citizenship campaigns enabling 300,000 Estate Tamils to acquire citizenship of Sri Lanka. UNHCR also assisted the Czech Republic to overcome the large number of stateless persons created when it separated from Slovakia.

At the beginning of 2006 the UNHCR claimed to have 'on its books' 2.4 million stateless persons, and made an estimate of 11 million as the size of the stateless population worldwide. By the end of 2014 UNHCR identified close to 3.5 million stateless persons in 77 countries and estimated the total number of stateless persons worldwide at more than 10 million.[36]

UNHCR does not report refugee populations in the statelessness statistics in order to avoid double counting which would affect the total number of Persons of Concern: stateless refugees are thus counted as refugees, not as stateless, and for the same reason Palestinian refugees under UNRWA’s mandate are not reported in the UNHCR statelessness table but are referred to elsewhere in UNHCR’s statistical reporting.

While the two conventions on statelessness constitute the primary international framework for protection of stateless persons and reduction of statelessness, there are also regional instruments of great importance:

The 1997 European Convention on Nationality, for example, has contributed to protecting the rights of stateless persons, and provides standards for reduction of statelessness in the Council of Europe region. That document underlines the need of every person to have a nationality, and seeks to clarify the rights and responsibilities of states in ensuring individual access to a nationality.

Statelessness of some magnitude exists in every country of the world. Today, some of the largest populations of stateless persons are found in Algeria, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Burma, Cambodia, Côte d'Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Dominican Republic, Estonia, Iraq, India, Kenya, Kuwait, Lebanon, Malaysia, Mauritania, Nepal, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Thailand.

Notable cases


Some cases of statelessness have been brought to wide public attention in airports, due to their status as ports of entry:

One famous case being that of Mehran Karimi Nasseri, an expelled Iranian who lived in the Charles de Gaulle Airport in France for approximately eighteen years after he was denied entry to the country, but was allowed to remain in the airport. (The 1994 French film Tombés du ciel and the 2004 American film The Terminal are fictional stories inspired by his experiences.[37] )

Another case is Zahra Kamalfar, of Iran, who lived in the Sheremetyevo International Airport for many months before getting refugee status in Canada.[38]

During change of citizenship

Countries that restrict cases of multiple nationality often require immigrants who apply for naturalisation to obtain official documentation from their countries of origin proving that they are no longer citizens.[39] In some countries, such as Japan and South Korea, such documentation does not have to be provided immediately, but only within a certain period after naturalization.[citation needed]

In others, including Taiwan, such documentation must be provided prior to granting of citizenship which entails - during the period between the renunciation/cancellation of the prior citizenship, and the granting of the new citizenship by naturalization - the applicant may be officially stateless. (In two cases in Taiwan, Pakistani immigrants applied for naturalization and renounced their Pakistani citizenship. In the interim, the decisions to permit their naturalization as citizens of Taiwan were reversed, leaving them left stateless.[40])


There are a large number of stateless permanent residents in Brunei. Most of these residents have lived on Brunei soil for generations, but Brunei nationality is determined by applying the policy of jus sanguinis; the right to hold the nationality is only by blood ties. The government of Brunei has made obtaining citizenship possible, albeit difficult, for stateless people who inhabited Brunei for many generations, requirements for attaining Brunei citizenship including rigorous tests in Malay culture, customs and language. Stateless permanent residents of Brunei are given an International Certificate of Identity, which allows them to travel overseas. The majority of Brunei's Chinese and Indians are permanent residents.

Holders of International Certificates of Identity can enter Germany and Hungary visa-free for a maximum of 90 days within a 180-day period. In the case of Germany, in theory, in order to benefit from the visa exemption, the ICI must be issued under the terms of the 1954 Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons and contain an authorization to return to Brunei which has a sufficiently long period of validity.

Brunei is a signatory to the 1959 Declaration of the Rights of the Child in which Principle 3 states the child shall be entitled from his birth to a name and a nationality but Brunei does not currently follow the guidelines of the said Convention. The Sultan of Brunei has announced a revised process that may expedite the process by which stateless persons with permanent residence status sit for citizenship exams.[41]


The Chittagonian-speaking Rohingya people are an Islamic minority group in Burma, whose status as citizens of that country, and human rights in general, have been severely curtailed by the Burmese government.


An Act to amend the Citizenship Act (S.C. 2008, c. 14) (previously Bill C-37) came into effect on 17 April 2009 and changed the rules for foreign-born Canadian citizenship:[42] individuals born outside Canada can now become Canadian citizens by descent only if at least one of their parents was either a native-born citizen or a foreign-born but naturalized citizen of Canada.

The new law limits citizenship by descent to only one generation born outside Canada. All individuals born outside Canada within one generation of the native-born or naturalized citizen parent are automatically recognized as Canadian citizens but second generation descendants born abroad are no longer citizens of Canada at birth, and such individuals might be stateless if they have no claim to any other citizenship. (Since the passage of Bill C-37 this situation has already occurred at least twice.

  • Rachel Chandler was born in China, to a Libyan-born father who is a Canadian citizen through the provision in the above paragraph and a mother who is a Chinese citizen. Due to the nationality laws of Canada and China, she was not eligible for citizenship of either country and was apparently born stateless.[43] However, because Rachel Chandler's paternal grandfather was born in Ireland, she was entitled to Irish citizenship, and now holds an Irish passport.[44]
  • Chloé Goldring was born in Belgium, to a Canadian father born in Bermuda and an Algerian mother. Due to the nationality laws of Belgium, Canada and Algeria, she was not eligible for citizenship of any of those countries and was born stateless.[45] Chloé Goldring is now a Canadian citizen.[46]

Under Bill C-37, the term "native-born" is construed strictly—children born outside of Canada to Canadian government employees working there, including diplomats and Canadian Forces personnel, are considered to be foreign-born.[44]

The bill was intended to resolve the status of so-called "Lost Canadians"—people who considered themselves Canadians, with undeniable connections to the country, but had either lost or never been granted citizenship due to the vagaries of the country's previous nationality law.[47]

Dominican Republic

There are an estimated 800,000 Haitians in the Dominican Republic.[48] For much of its history, the Dominican Republic had a policy of jus soli citizenship. Meaning, all children born within the Dominican Republic, even those born to undocumented parents, were automatically given citizenship. This is a policy practiced by most countries in the western hemisphere. In June 2013, the Dominican high court made an amendment to existing legislation which excluded jus soli citizenship to children born "in transit," such as the children of foreign diplomats and "those on their way to another country." [49] Since 2013, the law has been expanded to address the children of "non-citizens," such as Haitian migrants who immigrated after 1929.

Since the passing of the amendment, nearly 200,000 Dominicans of Haitian descent have been stripped of their Dominican citizenship.[50] Without birth certificates, identification, or nationality; they are stateless. Now living illegally within the Dominican Republic, they can by law be deported to Haiti. As of July 2015, according to the International Organization for Migration, about 1,133 individuals have voluntarily or involuntarily relocated to Haiti.[51] By law, many are eligible to apply for naturalized citizenship in both Haiti or the Dominican Republic. Still, financial, bureaucratic, and discriminatory obstacles have prevented many from doing so.

Estonia and Latvia

About 12 % of Latvians and 6 % of Estonians are stateless.[52] The neighboring European countries of Estonia and Latvia were occupied by the Soviet Union in 1940. When their independencies were restored in 1991, Estonian and Latvian citizenships were automatically granted to Latvian citizens prior to 18 June 1940, Estonian citizens prior to 16 June 1940 and their respective descendants. Persons who had moved to Estonia and Latvia during the occupation, and their descendants, did not get an Estonian or Latvian citizenship automatically in 1991. They had to apply for naturalization as immigrants, which includes a language test of Estonian or Latvian and a knowledge test.[53][54] In Latvia, children born after Latvia reestablished independence (August 21, 1991) to parents who are both non-citizens are also entitled to citizenship upon request of at least one of the parents. These criteria left mostly ethnically Russians without any citizenship. Some of the stateless persons decide not to apply for Estonian or Latvian citizenship because Russia has a visa waiver for stateless persons living in Estonia and Latvia, while Estonian and Latvian citizens need to obtain a visa to enter Russia, and despite their statelessness the stateless persons can travel freely within the Schengen area.[55]


As a European Union Member Greece's Article 19 of the Greek Citizenship Code (Law 3370 of 1955) provided that: "A person of non-Greek ethnic origin leaving Greece without the intention of returning may be declared as having lost Greek citizenship. This also applies to a person of non-Greek ethnic origin born and domiciled abroad. Minor children living abroad may be declared as having lost Greek citizenship if both their parents or the surviving parent have lost it as well. (The Minister of the Interio decides such cases, with the concurring opinion of the Citizenship Council.)

Article 19 was abolished in 1998, but without any provision for restoring citizenship to people who had lost it. At this time Minister of the Interior Alekos Papadopoulos stated that, since its introduction in 1955, 60,000 Greek citizens had lost their citizenship in application of that article. Many of these people adopted the nationality of another country after they moved there; an estimated 300–1000 people remain stateless in Greece (primarily minorities in Thrace, some of whom had never settled abroad) and other former Greek citizens are stateless in other countries (an estimated 1400 in Turkey and an unknown number elsewhere).

Stateless individuals in Greece have had difficulty receiving social services like health care and education and —until December 1997—were denied the protection of the 1954 U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, which Greece ratified in 1975.

As a result of pressure from NGOs and minority deputies and organizations, around one hundred ethnic Turks made stateless under Article 19 received identity documents from Greek authorities in accordance with the 1954 U.N. Convention. In August 1998, then Foreign Minister Theodoros Pangalos stated that within a year most or all of the stateless living in Greece would be offered Greek citizenship; this promise was repeated in subsequent months by then Alternate and Deputy Foreign Ministers George Papandreou and Giannos Kranidiotis.

However, to date the government has taken no steps to carry out this promise.

From the mid-1950s until 1998, the Greek government used Article 19 of its Citizenship Code to discriminate against its own population, especially the Turkish ethnic minority in Western Thrace, Greece, but also immigrants to Turkey itself. The dispute over Cyprus between Greece and Turkey further exacerbated the problem and tens of thousands of Greek citizens lost their nationality quite arbitrarily, sometimes while they were simply visiting Turkey on holiday.

The law was repealed in 1998, but not retroactively (those who had been naturalized would not have their citizenship automatically restored). Human rights groups and the United Nations have enabled many to regain their citizenship but not without a long and sometimes humiliating struggle. Many stateless Greeks have had their nationality restored but others have been waiting for decades, unable to re-enter the country of their birth and sometimes separated from their families back home in Greece.

A documentary on Al Jazeera English covering the stateless citizen problem in Greece for the Turkish minority there.[56]

Greek Helsinki Monitor Minority Rights Group — Greece.[57]

Hong Kong

There are some stateless residents in Hong Kong. Children born to foreign domestic workers are not classified as citizens as Chinese nationality is determined by applying the policy of jus sanguinis; the right to hold the nationality is only by blood ties.[58]

Due to the visa regulations governing foreign domestic workers, the government of Hong Kong may award an unconditional stay visa. Many of these children can obtain citizenship of their parents country of birth. When these children are put up for adoption, however, citizenship applications can become challenging.

In the case where both adoptive parents are Chinese nationals, it is likely that their adopted children will remain stateless. Applying for Chinese citizenship by naturalisation is only possible for permanent residents of Hong Kong, and an unconditional stay visa does not grant this status.

Stateless permanent residents of Hong Kong may apply for a Hong Kong Document of Identity for Visa Purposes, which allows them to travel overseas.[59] This document (with few exceptions) requires the holder to apply for and receive a travel visa prior to departure from Hong Kong.

Eliana Rubashkyn, a transgender woman who was a refugee who became stateless de facto after being detained for over 8 months on the grounds her appearance did not match her passport[6][7] suffering mistreatment in Chep Lap Kok Airport detention center and in Kowloon's Queen Elizabeth Hospital. Despite being granted refugee status because Hong Kong is not a current signatory of the refugee convention of 1951 she was not recognized as refugee and her citizenship was withdrawn. (In 2013 the UN sent a petition to the international community to find a third country to resettle her due to the lack of protection for LGBT people - and refugees - in that special administrative region of China.[3][8] After almost one year, she was recognized under a UN declaration as a woman under international law and was sent to New Zealand, her actual country of asylum.

India and Pakistan

As of 2012, India and Pakistan were holding several hundred prisoners of each other's country for minor violations like trespass or visa overstay, often with accusations of espionage.

Some of these include cases where Pakistan and India both deny citizenship to these people, leaving them stateless. In 2012 the BBC reported on the case of Mohammed Idrees, who lived in Pakistan and was held under Indian police control for approximately 13 years for overstaying his 15-day visa by 2–3 days after seeing his ill parents in 1999.

Much of the 13 years was spent in prison waiting for a hearing, and more time was spent homeless or living with generous families. Both states denied him citizenship.

The BBC linked these problems to the political atmosphere caused by the Kashmir conflict. The Indian People's Union for Civil Liberties told the BBC it had worked on hundreds of cases with similar features, calling his individual case a "violation of all human rights, national and international laws, everybody has a right to a nation". The Indian Human Rights Law Network told the BBC that the cause was "officials in the home department", and slow courts, and called the case a "miscarriage of justice, a shocking case".[60]


When Japan lost control over Korea in 1945, those Koreans who remained in Japan received Chōsen-seki, a designation of nationality which did not actually grant them citizenship. Roughly half of those Koreans later got South Korean citizenship, but the other half, who affiliated with North Korea which is unrecognized by Japan, are legally stateless in Japan.

Practically speaking, they mostly hold North Korean citizenship (albeit meaningless in their country of residence) and may repatriate there, while they are treated as foreign nationals and given the full privileges entitled to that class in Japanese law. As of 2010 Chōsen-seki holders are banned from South Korea. UNHCR published a study on statelessness in Japan in 2010.[61]


Bidoon is Arabic for 'without', indicating that this group, numbering between 80,000 and 100,000, has no nationality.

In 2011, the first Bidoon demonstrations for nationality rights took place on February 18.[62] In 2011, Kuwaiti courts ruled that Bidoon are allowed to be issued birth, marriage and death certificates.[63]

Prior to that time, Bidon were impeded in seeking education and employment by the lack of such documentation.[64]

The Kuwaiti government has recently given a portion of stateless people conditional rights and worked on improving their overall standard of living and incorporation in the Kuwaiti society for those who can provide documentation verifying that their male descendants resided in Kuwait prior to 1967. Many families have never been able to access such documents as they were never issued by the government.

The minority of stateless people in Kuwait have access to this status. Stateless people are labelled and stratified into 5 different groups in Kuwait:

  • Those who have not registered, or cannot register, and therefore access no services.
  • Those with green cards, who are allowed access to some basic services, as long as their eligibility is maintained on their government security files.
  • Holders of blue cards who must re-register with the Kuwaiti government every six months
  • Holders of yellow cards who must re-register every three months.
  • Holders of red cards can be deported at any time, based on government conditions which are attached to the card.

The conditional access is provided for those who receive a green card, only as long as the identification card belonging to the father of the family is current and has the green classification. It is common for cards not to be renewed. The International Coalition for the Stateless has reported that many cards are not being renewed, and that this is to be reported to the United Nations at the upcoming Periodic Review for Kuwait in 2015. Of the four types of classification (noting that many stateless families cannot obtain any such card), only the green card is linked to the provision of services which include

  • free medical treatment,[65]
  • free public education,[65]
  • employment,[65]
  • birth, death, marriage and divorce certificates,[65]
  • inheritance & guardianship documentation,[65]
  • driver’s licenses (for which there are a number of 'hurdle'),[65]
  • providing basic supermarket supplies (subsidies)[65]
  • care for those with special needs and handicaps (not including specialist treatment).[65]


  1. These services are not related to human rights but rather form a conditional access to social services, which can be withdrawn at any time.
  2. Approximately 2,000 citizenships are granted annually.

Media reports verify that it is well known in Kuwaiti society that stateless people are not prioritized on the lists to grant citizenship but rather, priority is given to citizens of other countries and foreign spouses of important Kuwaitis, as well as citizenship granted to foreigners who have performed a service for the society of Kuwait. There is no public release of information regarding the number of stateless people who are included in this annual distribution.

In 2013 it was reported that 4,000 'foreigners' would receive citizenship (BBC Middle East News, 20 March 2013); although the headline stated that stateless people would be naturalised, there was no indication that 4,000 stateless people would actually receive citizenship. Locally, Kuwaiti academics wrote an open letter requesting some stateless people be included — i.e. for some stateless people to be given citizenship, and not only foreigners who were not Kuwaiti (, '29 Kuwaiti Academics and Writers Petition for Bidoon,' 25 March 2013.

The number was higher than usual because in 2012 there was no such round of citizenship distribution, indicating that citizenship may be cancelled as government wishes, where other business arises. But the government says that only a third of the Bidoons are eligible for naturalisation and the rest have destroyed their documents which state they are citizens of other nations.

Despite this claim, many international humanitarian agencies have established that claim is a statement of ideology, the labeling of stateless people, who have been present in Kuwait for generations, as members of another nation is part of a strategy whereby stateless men re-registering their identification cards were advised they should purchase foreign passports.

Many statements made in the local news media in Kuwait by parliamentarians have verified that there is a desire to deport this section of the population. For example, some humanitarian agencies have reported that posters advertising fraudulent passport services were placed in Bureau offices, whereby staff advised stateless people they could not re-register at the office, but should take down the details on the poster and purchase a fraudulent passport. (Refugees International/Open Society report 'Without Citizenship' 13 May 2011, p. 7, stated: 'After years of encouraging—sometimes coercing—Bidoon to sign affidavits to the effect that they were nationals of other countries, government officials became involved in an illicit trade of forged foreign passports.') This strategy enabled hundreds if not thousands of stateless families to be removed from Bureau records as 'other nationals' reducing the government's perceived obligation to provide government services (described as 'rights' above) and removing those families opportunity to ever receive citizenship.[66] Kuwait expelled some 400,000 Palestinians during the Iraq war period.

On April 17, 2014, a parliamentarian, Nabil al Fadhl, proposed that stateless persons who have security offences listed against them should be sent to camps in the desert (Gulf News, Kuwaiti MP wants protesting stateless sent to desert camp,' 17 April 2014).

At least one author who provided a Shadow Report the previous United Nations Periodic Report on Kuwait was blacklisted and given security offences such as was referred to by the parliamentarian. Since then, Kuwait parliamentarians who have spoken in opposition to the government have been rendered stateless. ('Where security offences are provided for free speech, the parliament is diminished of its intellectual capital' -Al Jazeera News, 'Kuwait Urged to Stop Stripping Citizenship,' 19 October 2014).

Restrictions to employment and education mean that many stateless people are never employed. Many men face lifetimes of unemployment and cannot access any opportunity to live a productive life. Some men who sell fruit in the street due to poverty, are made to pack up their things or risk an arrest for committing a security offence.

The streets of the segregated communities of Taima and Sulabiya are deserted during the daytime as whole families are effectively confined to their homes. The extent of hunger is unknown, although considering the long term poverty and unemployment experienced by many families, hunger is a very real factor in the life of stateless Kuwaitis.

There are no statistics available on what portion of the stateless population receives access to any government funded services ('rights'), and who do not. There is no up to date, published information on the numbers of registered and unregistered stateless people in total in Kuwait; only an approximate figure of 'those eligible to receive citizenship' i.e. who have been issued green cards in 2012, has been stated; current numbers (as at 2014) are unknown, although they have likely reduced in total as many of the identity cards have not been renewed, as reported to the United Nations in advance of the 15th Periodic Review of Kuwait by the International Coalition of the Stateless.[67]


Even though Palestinians living in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip were issued a Palestinian passport according to the Oslo Accords, many countries (such as Germany) still do not recognize their citizenship.

As a matter of international law, only states can have nationals and the nationality status of many Palestinians therefore depends on whether or not Palestine is a state: some countries recognize Palestinian statehood, but others do not.

After Israel annexed East Jerusalem, Palestinians living there received, along with Israeli permanent residency status, the right to apply for citizenship. Shortly after the offer was made in 1967, it was rejected by Arab leaders. Almost all Jerusalemite Palestinians have shied away from citizenship for ideological reasons. Between 1967 and 2007 only 12,000 of these 250,000 Palestinians applied for Israeli citizenship.[68][69] However, since then, a growing trend has emerged of Jerusalem Palestinians applying for citizenship, although the majority still reject it.[70] Those who do not are therefore generally stateless.

Many descendants of Palestinian refugees live permanently in countries of which they would be expected to be citizens but are not citizens of their country of residence because because that country adheres to the policy of the Arab League of denying citizenship to Palestinians.

Abbas Shiblak estimates that over half of the Palestinian people in the world are stateless.[71]

Puerto Rico

In 1994, Juan Mari Brás, a Puerto Rican lawyer and political historian, renounced his US citizenship before a consular agent in the US Embassy of Venezuela. In December 1995, his loss of nationality was confirmed by the US Department of State: Mari Bras was no longer a US citizen. That same month, he requested that the Puerto Rico State Department furnish him with proof of his Puerto Rican citizenship. The request involved more than just a bureaucratic formality, therefore testing the self-determination of Puerto Rico by becoming the first Puerto Rican citizen that was not also an American citizen.[72]

Mari Brás claimed that as a Puerto Rican national born and raised in Puerto Rico, he was clearly a Puerto Rican citizen and therefore had every right to continue to reside, work and, most importantly, vote in Puerto Rico. The State Department responded promptly, claiming that Puerto Rican citizenship does not exist independent of American citizenship, and in 1998 rescinded their recognition of his renunciation of citizenship. The State Department's response to Mari Brás stated that Puerto Rican citizenship currently exists only as an equivalent to residency. However, this is not actually the case since the Puerto Rico State Department also issues certificates of Puerto Rican citizenship to people born outside of Puerto Rico (who may have never resided in Puerto Rico) to a Puerto Rican-born parent.


Most of Qatar's Bidoon are stateless tribesmen from the Ghufrani tribe. In 2005, Qatar stripped the citizenship of over 5,000 members of the Al Ghufrani tribe. There are between 1,200 to 1,500 Bidoon in Qatar.[73][74] After international outcry, the government restored the citizenship of approximately 2,000 tribesmen.[74]

United Kingdom

Cases of statelessness have arisen due to different classes in British nationality law which led to situations where people were considered British subjects but not nationals, or where people held a British passport without right of abode in the United Kingdom. People who have no other citizenship in any other country, and simultaneously lacked a right to reside in the United Kingdom are possibly stateless.[citation needed] Examples of this include so-called British Protected Persons, who are not considered British nationals. British nationals (irrespective of the class of nationality) who reside abroad but do not enjoy protection by the British government are de facto stateless.

Many situations where people were at risk of statelessness due to the different classes of British nationality were resolved after 30 April 2003, when the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 came into force. As a result of this Act, the United Kingdom gave most nationals of residual British nationalities, without any other citizenship the right to register as full British citizens. However, cases still exist where people have not been able or willing to register as citizens.[specify] Following publication of a joint UNHCR-Asylum Aid report in 2011,[75] the UK adopted a statelessness determination procedure in 2013.[76]

In January 2014, the Immigration Bill 2013-14 planned to extend the powers of the Home Secretary to allow for certain terror suspects to be declared stateless. The bill was initially blocked by the House of Lords in April 2014.[77] However the Lords reconsidered their decision on the bill during May 2014, and it has now returned to the commons before being set into UK law.[citation needed]

United States

The United States, which is not a signatory to the 1954 Convention on the Status of Stateless Persons nor the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, is one of a small number of countries which will allow its citizens to renounce their citizenship even if they do not hold any other. The Foreign Affairs Manual instructs State Department employees to make it clear to Americans who will become stateless after renunciation that they may face extreme difficulties (including deportation back to the United States) following their renunciation, but instructs employees to afford such persons their right to give up citizenship.[78] Former Americans who have voluntarily made themselves stateless as a form of political protest include Garry Davis, Thomas Jolley, Joel Slater, Mike Gogulski,[79][80][81] Glen L. Roberts,[82][83] and most recently Jason Minard.[84][85] UNHCR published a report on statelessness in the United States in 2012 in which it recommended establishment of a determination procedure that incorporates a definition of statelessness in accordance with international law to ensure stateless persons are permitted to reside in the United States.[86]

The Fourteenth Amendment of the US constitution granted citizenship to African American slaves, however it excluded Native Americans by defining a citizen as any person born in the US but only if "subject to the jurisdiction thereof"; this latter clause excluded anyone who already had citizenship in a foreign power such as a tribal nation. The Indian Citizenship Act addressed the issue by granting citizenship to America's indigenous peoples. As the United States allows its citizens to renounce citizenship in principle it is possible for a Native American to renounce their US citizenship while maintaining membership of their tribal nation.[87][88]


United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

UNHCR’s statelessness mandate

UNHCR’s responsibilities were initially limited to stateless persons who were refugees as set out in paragraph 6(A) (II) of its Statute and article 1(A) (2) of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees.[27] They were expanded following the adoption of the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons and the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness. General Assembly resolutions 3274 (XXIV) and 31/36 designated UNHCR as the body mandated to examine the cases of persons who claim the benefit of the 1961 Convention and to assist such persons in presenting their claims to the appropriate national authorities.[89] Subsequently, the United Nations General Assembly conferred upon UNHCR a global mandate for the identification, prevention and reduction of statelessness and for the international protection of stateless persons.[90][91] This mandate has continued to evolve as the General Assembly has endorsed the conclusions of the Executive Committee, notably Executive Committee Conclusion No. 106 of 2006 on "Identification, Prevention and Reduction of Statelessness and Protection of Stateless Persons."[92]

UNHCR’s global campaign to end statelessness - #IBELONG

The UNHCR launched a global campaign to end statelessness within 10 years on the 4th of November 2014.

As part of the campaign, it published a special report: Ending Statelessness within 10 years provides a comprehensive overview of statelessness and delves into the human impact of this phenomenon.[93]

It also published an open letter addressed to states to take action. In addition to UNHCR High Commissioner António Guterres, the letter was signed by Angelina Jolie, UNHCR Special Envoy; Surin Pitsuwan, former Secretary-General of ASEAN; Shirin Ebadi, Nobel Peace laureate; Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu; Barbara Hendricks, UNHCR Honorary Lifetime Goodwill Ambassador; Madeleine Albright, former US Secretary of State; Carla Del Ponte, former Chief Prosecutor of two UN international criminal tribunals; Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights; Louise Arbour, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and Dame Rosalyn Higgins, DBE QC, former President of the International Court of Justice among others.[94]

In addition a Global Action Plan to End Statelessness: 2014-2024 was launched following consultation with States, civil society and international organisations. It sets out a guiding framework made up of 10 Actions that need to be taken to end statelessness within 10 years.[95]

The Global Action Plan includes Actions to:

  • resolve existing situations of statelessness;
  • prevent new cases of statelessness from emerging; and
  • better identify and protect stateless persons.

The 10 actions to end statelessness are:

  • Action 1: Resolve existing major situations of statelessness.
  • Action 2: Ensure that no child is born stateless.
  • Action 3: Remove gender discrimination from nationality laws.
  • Action 4: Prevent denial, loss or deprivation of nationality on discriminatory grounds.
  • Action 5: Prevent statelessness in cases of State succession.
  • Action 6: Grant protection status to stateless migrants and facilitate their naturalization.
  • Action 7: Ensure birth registration for the prevention of statelessness.
  • Action 8: Issue nationality documentation to those with entitlement to it.
  • Action 9: Accede to the UN Statelessness Conventions.
  • Action 10: Improve quantitative and qualitative data on stateless populations.

International Stateless Persons Organisation

In March 2012, the International Stateless Persons Organisation (ISPO), an International non-governmental organization (INGO) was founded by HH Prince Dr. Fernando Macolor Cruz, tribal prince and instructor of History and Political Science at the Palawan State University in the Philippines. It aims to provide institutional representation to stateless persons throughout the world through a network of volunteer human rights law practitioners who act as Country Representatives.

Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion

The Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion is an independent non-profit organisation dedicated to leading an integrated, inter-disciplinary response to the injustice of statelessness and exclusion. They work on research, analysis, empowerment, advocacy and information and awareness globally. They also maintain an online forum on statelessness.

European Network on Statelessness

The European Network on Statelessness is a civil society alliance committed to address statelessness in Europe. ENS was set up against the backdrop of addressing the problem of 600,000 stateless persons in Europe and to fill a perceived gap by acting as a coordinating body and expert resource for organisations across Europe who work with or come into contact with stateless persons.

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  94. UNHCR. "UNHCR's Open Letter to End Statelessness".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  95. UNHCR. "Global Action Plan to End Statelessness: 2014-2024" (PDF).<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Further reading

External links