UNHCR hails move by United Kingdom to end legal limbo for stateless people

News Stories, 9 April 2013

© UNHCR/D.Telemans
Interviews are an essential part of the stateless determination process.

GENEVA, April 9 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency on Tuesday welcomed a new stateless determination procedure that has just come into effect in the United Kingdom and said it was a "landmark step."

UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming said the procedure, which came into force at the weekend, "allows stateless people, currently living on the margins of society and in legal limbo, a route to be formally recognized as stateless and to legalize their presence in the UK." Speaking to journalists in Geneva, she added that "as such, it is a landmark step."

The new procedure is also a positive example to other countries that are parties to the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons but which have not taken steps to implement the Convention by establishing a statelessness determination procedure and a protection status for stateless people.

Introduction and implementation of a fair and efficient procedure to identify stateless people in the UK was one of the key recommendations of a 2011 study carried out by UNHCR and its NGO partner, Asylum Aid.

This research conducted in the context of the 50th anniversary of the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness found that stateless people who had come to the UK in a migration context were not being identified as such. This put them at risk of destitution, as well as costly immigration detention and lack of access to basic rights and services.

During 2012, UNHCR provided input to the UK Home Office (Interior Ministry) on the design of a procedure which would allow for the identification of stateless individuals and which would ensure that they receive protection.

A key feature of the new procedure is that it assesses whether an individual does in fact possess a nationality or whether they require protection in the UK. The 2011 research found that there are around 150 to 200 people each year who claim asylum and are recorded as being stateless by the Home Office.

“Establishment of a determination procedure in the UK is a key step to ensuring that stateless people there enjoy protection,” said Mark Manly, head of UNHCR’s statelessness unit. “We call on other states which face similar situations to respond as the UK has.”

Britain has ratified both the statelessness conventions. The UK's new procedure is among several recent developments internationally regarding statelessness. In the first three months of 2013 Ukraine has acceded to the 1954 and 1961 conventions while Jamaica has acceded to the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness. There have been an unprecedented 26 accessions to the two statelessness conventions in the past two years as a result of a UNHCR campaign.

• DONATE NOW •

 

• GET INVOLVED • • STAY INFORMED •

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.

#IBELONG

IBELONG
Sign and share our open letter to end statelessness in ten years.

Stateless People

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

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 in the Dominican Republic

In the Dominican Republic, UNHCR runs programmes that benefit refugees and asylum-seekers from Haiti as well as migrants and members of their family born in the country, some of whom could be stateless or at risk of becoming stateless. Many live in bateyes, which are destitute communities on once thriving sugar cane plantations. The inhabitants have been crossing over from Haiti for decades to work in the sugar trade.

Among these initiatives, UNHCR provides legal aid, academic remedial courses and vocational training for refugees and asylum-seekers. They also support entrepreneurial initiatives and access to micro credit.

UNHCR also has an increased presence in border communities in order to promote peaceful coexistence between Dominican and Haitian populations. The UN refugee agency has found that strengthening the agricultural production capacities of both groups promotes integration and mitigates tension.

Many Haitians and Dominicans living in the dilapidated bateyes are at risk of statelessness. Stateless people are not considered as nationals by any country. This can result in them having trouble accessing and exercising basic rights, including education and medical care as well as employment, travel and housing. UNHCR aims to combat statelessness by facilitating the issuance of birth certificates for people living in the bateyes.

Statelessness in the Dominican Republic

#IBELONG: End Statelessness NowPlay video

#IBELONG: End Statelessness Now

Statelessness: A Message from UNHCRPlay video

Statelessness: A Message from UNHCR

An address from UNHCR's Director of International Protection Volker Türk to mark International Human Rights Day and the launch of a new report on Statelessness in the United States.
UNHCR : Breakthrough on StatelessnessPlay video

UNHCR : Breakthrough on Statelessness

UNHCR's ministerial conference in Geneva takes a great step forward in resolving the issue of statelessness. On the sidelines of the meeting, Serbia and Turkmenistan acceded to the statelessness conventions.