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UK's new determination procedure to end legal limbo for stateless

Briefing Notes, 9 April 2013

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 9 April 2013, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR welcomes the new stateless determination procedure that came in to effect in the United Kingdom this past weekend (06 April).

The procedure allows stateless people, currently living on the margins of society and in legal limbo, a route to be formally recognised as stateless persons and to legalize their presence in the UK. 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 our 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 Home Office 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 UK Home Office.

The UK has ratified both the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons and the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness.

The UK's new procedure is among several recent developments internationally regarding statelessness. In the first three months of 2013 Ukraine has acceded to both the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, and the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, while Jamaica has acceded to the '61 Convention.

For further information on this topic, please contact

  • In London: Andrej Mahecic on mobile +44 78 80 23 0985
  • In Geneva: Babar Baloch on +41 79 557 9106
  • Adrian Edwards on mobile +41 79 557 91 20
  • Melissa Fleming on number +41 79 557 91 22
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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.

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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.

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Viet Nam's achievements in granting citizenship to thousands of stateless people over the last two years make the country a global leader in ending and preventing statelessness.

Left stateless after the 1975 collapse of the bloody Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia, nearly 1,400 former Cambodian refugees received citizenship in Viet Nam in 2010, the culmination of five years of cooperation between the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the Vietnamese government. Most of the former refugees have lived in Viet Nam since 1975, all speak Vietnamese and have integrated fully. Almost 1,000 more are on track to get their citizenship in the near future. With citizenship comes the all-important family registration book that governs all citizens' interactions with the government in Viet Nam, as well as a government identification card. These two documents allow the new citizens to purchase property, attend universities and get health insurance and pensions. The documents also allow them to do simple things they could not do before, such as own a motorbike.

Viet Nam also passed a law in 2009 to restore citizenship to Vietnamese women who became stateless in the land of their birth after they married foreign men, but divorced before getting foreign citizenship for them and their children.

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