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What is Statelessness?

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To understand how a person can lack a nationality, it helps to know how nationality works in practice. In simple terms, you acquire a nationality automatically at birth or you obtain one later on in life. Those who acquire nationality at birth do so because they were born in a country that gives nationality through birth on their territory (jus soli) or because their parents were able to transmit their nationality to their children (jus sanguinis), which usually applies regardless of where the child was born. Sometimes, however, people need to apply to become a national of a country and base their application on years of residence or a family link with the given country.

The international legal definition of a stateless person is set out in Article 1 of the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, which defines a stateless person as "a person who is not considered as a national by any State under the operation of its law". This means that a stateless person is someone who does not have a nationality of any country. Some people are born stateless, while others become stateless over the course of their lives.

Causes of Statelessness

Important causes of statelessness are discrimination and gaps in nationality legislation.



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#IBELONG: End Statelessness Now


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

Handbook on Protection of Stateless Persons

Under the 1954 Convention relating to the status of Stateless persons, Geneva 2014.

Guidelines on Statelessness No. 4: Ensuring Every Child's Right to Acquire a Nationality through Articles 1-4 of the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness

These Guidelines result from a series of expert consultations conducted in the context of the 50th Anniversary of the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness in 2011.

Statelessness Documents on Refworld

Documents highlighting good practices to address statelessness are available in Refworld

e-learning Course on Statelessness

This interactive and practical online course from UNHCR raises awareness of statelessness, its causes and consequences, and explains the relevant legal framework.