Latin American nations urged to accede to statelessness conventions

News Stories, 11 November 2010

© UNHCR/J.I.De Carli
Former refugee Miguel Kreiter, who only discovered he was stateless after living for decades in Argentina.

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina, November 11 (UNHCR) At the end of last year only 118 people were registered as stateless throughout Latin America, out of more than 6 million worldwide. But just as the world estimate of all stateless people is 12 million, the number of people in the region without citizenship is also probably much higher, with most of them coming from other continents.

And on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the UN Convention on Reduction of Statelessness, the UN refugee agency is keen to help these stateless people by getting more Latin American countries to accede to the 1961 convention and the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons.

The problem of statelessness and accession to the two conventions will be discussed during an important meeting today in Brazil on refugee protection, statelessness and mixed migratory movements in the Americas. Senior UNHCR officials and representatives from 20 countries are attending the gathering, hosted by Brazil's Justice Ministry.

Most of the stateless people in Latin America have come from other continents and many are caught in mixed migration flows, but there are also people within the region who have no nationality for one reason or another.

And lack of nationality can have a devastating effect on a person's daily life; it can affect access to health care, education, property rights and the ability to move freely. They are also vulnerable to arbitrary treatment and crimes like trafficking. Citizenship is vital for a person's welfare and participation in society.

Miguel Kreiter, a registered stateless refugee in Argentina, was born in Austria in 1945 shortly after his family fled from the Soviet Union at the end of World War Two. He obtained legal residency and possessed an identity card for foreigners.

He did not realize that he had a problem until he applied for a passport so that he could visit close relatives living in Canada. Kreiter was told that he was not recognized as a citizen by the Russian Federation, Austria or Argentina he was stateless and ineligible for travel documents. "I didn´t know what it meant to be stateless . . . I did not know about my rights or whom to ask for assistance," he told UNHCR. "I was nobody and I felt I could not do anything."

The 65-year-old carpenter said that his sister would face the same problem when she tried to travel.

But at least Kreiter's problem is out in the open and he can do something about it. Moreover, Argentina is among the Latin American countries that are parties to the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, but it has not yet acceded to the 1961 convention and has yet to set up formal procedures to determine statelessness.

Many other countries in the region have not even acceded to the 1954 convention and have no mechanism for recognizing the stateless and assisting them. Moreover, nationality laws in some Latin American countries contain gaps that could generate new situations of statelessness.

At the meeting in Brasilia, UNHCR will be urging participating states to redouble their efforts to prevent and respond to statelessness. Accession to the two conventions would be a major step forward.

Meanwhile, Kreiter has been recognized as a stateless refugee by Argentina and will be given a travel document. He is applying for citizenship. Millions of others around the world are not so lucky.

By Juan Ignacio Mondelli in Buenos Aires, Argentina

Francesca Fontanini in Bogota, Colombia, contributed to this article.




Stateless People

Millions of stateless people are left in a legal limbo, with limited basic rights.

Ending Statelessness

Governments resolve and prevent statelessness by taking practical steps as set out in the Global Action Plan.

UN Conventions on Statelessness

The two UN statelessness conventions are the key legal instruments in the protection of stateless people around the world.

State Action on Statelessness

Action taken by states, including follow-up on pledges made at UNHCR's 2011 ministerial meeting in Geneva.


Sign and share our Open Letter to End Statelessness by 2024.

Global Roundtable on Alternatives to Detention of Asylum-Seekers, Refugees, Migrants and Stateless Persons

Summary Conclusions of the first Global Roundtable on Alternatives to Detention, held in May 2011 in Geneva

Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons; Its History and Interpretation

A Commentary by Nehemiah Robinson of the Institute of Jewish Affairs at the 1955 World Jewish Congress, re-printed by UNHCR's Division of International Protection in 1997


Advocacy is a key element in UNHCR activities to protect people of concern.

Refugee Protection and Mixed Migration: A 10-Point Plan of Action

A UNHCR strategy setting out key areas in which action is required to address the phenomenon of mixed and irregular movements of people. See also: Schematic representation of a profiling and referral mechanism in the context of addressing mixed migratory movements.

Mixed Migration

Migrants are different from refugees but the two sometimes travel alongside each other.

Statelessness Around the World

At least 10 million people in the world today are stateless. They are told that they don't belong anywhere. They are denied a nationality. And without one, they are denied their basic rights. From the moment they are born they are deprived of not only citizenship but, in many cases, even documentation of their birth. Many struggle throughout their lives with limited or no access to education, health care, employment, freedom of movement or sense of security. Many are unable to marry, while some people choose not to have children just to avoid passing on the stigma of statelessness. Even at the end of their lives, many stateless people are denied the dignity of a death certificate and proper burial.

The human impact of statelessness is tremendous. Generations and entire communities can be affected. But, with political will, statelessness is relatively easy to resolve. Thanks to government action, more than 4 million stateless people acquired a nationality between 2003 and 2013 or had their nationality confirmed. Between 2004 and 2014, twelve countries took steps to remove gender discrimination from their nationality laws - action that is vital to ensuring children are not left stateless if their fathers are stateless or unable to confer their nationality. Between 2011 and 2014, there were 42 accessions to the two statelessness conventions - indication of a growing consensus on the need to tackle statelessness. UNHCR's 10-year Campaign to End Statelessness seeks to give impetus to this. The campaign calls on states to take 10 actions that would bring a definitive end to this problem and the suffering it causes.

These images are available for use only to illustrate articles related to UNHCR statelessness campaign. They are not available for archiving, resale, redistribution, syndication or third party licensing, but only for one-time print/online usage. All images must be properly credited UNHCR/photographer's name

Statelessness Around the World

Statelessness in Kyrgyzstan

Two decades after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, thousands of people in former Soviet republics like Kyrgyzstan are still facing problems with citizenship. UNHCR has identified more than 20,000 stateless people in the Central Asian nation. These people are not considered as nationals under the laws of any country. While many in principle fall under the Kyrgyz citizenship law, they have not been confirmed as nationals under the existing procedures.

Most of the stateless people in Kyrgyzstan have lived there for many years, have close family links in the country and are culturally and socially well-integrated. But because they lack citizenship documents, these folk are often unable to do the things that most people take for granted, including registering a marriage or the birth of a child, travelling within Kyrgyzstan and overseas, receiving pensions or social allowances or owning property. The stateless are more vulnerable to economic hardship, prone to higher unemployment and do not enjoy full access to education and medical services.

Since independence in 1991, Kyrgyzstan has taken many positive steps to reduce and prevent statelessness. And UNHCR, under its statelessness mandate, has been assisting the country by providing advice on legislation and practices as well as giving technical assistance to those charged with solving citizenship problems. The refugee agency's NGO partners provide legal counselling to stateless people and assist them in their applications for citizenship.

However, statelessness in Kyrgyzstan is complex and thousands of people, mainly women and children, still face legal, administrative and financial hurdles when seeking to confirm or acquire citizenship. In 2009, with the encouragement of UNHCR, the government adopted a national action plan to prevent and reduce statelessness. In 2011, the refugee agency will help revise the plan and take concrete steps to implement it. A concerted effort by all stakeholders is needed so that statelessness does not become a lingering problem for future generations.

Statelessness in Kyrgyzstan

Statelessness and Women

Statelessness can arise when citizenship laws do not treat men and women equally. Statelessness bars people from rights that most people take for granted such as getting a job, buying a house, travelling, opening a bank account, getting an education, accessing health care. It can even lead to detention.

In some countries, nationality laws do not allow mothers to confer nationality to their children on an equal basis as fathers and this creates the risk that these children will be left stateless. In others, women cannot acquire, change or retain their nationality on an equal basis as men. More than 40 countries still discriminate against women with respect to these elements.

Fortunately, there is a growing trend for states to remedy gender discrimination in their nationality laws, as a result of developments in international human rights law and helped by vigorous advocacy from women's rights groups. The women and children depicted here have faced problems over nationality.

Statelessness and Women

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