Home > Who We Help > Stateless People > What is Statelessness?

What is Statelessness?

Who We Help
© UNHCR/ GEMUNU AMARASINGHE

To be stateless is to be without nationality or citizenship. There is no legal bond of nationality between the state and the individual. Stateless people face numerous difficulties in their daily lives: they can lack access to health care, education, property rights and the ability to move freely. They are also vulnerable to arbitrary treatment and crimes like trafficking. Their marginalization can create tensions in society and lead to instability at an international level, including, in extreme cases, conflict and displacement.

Some persons formally possess a nationality but are in a similar situation as stateless persons. For these, the term de facto statelessness has often been used. There is, however, no universally accepted definition of this term. Traditionally the term was used to describe a person who, outside his/her country of nationality, is denied diplomatic and consular protection or assistance of his/her country. This situation occurs when the country of nationality refuses to allow a person to return home, even though that country still formally recognizes the individual as a national. In such a situation, the person may also fall under the refugee definition. You can learn more about de jure and de facto statelessness in "The Concept of Stateless Persons under International Law - Summary Conclusions".

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

To be stateless is to be without nationality or citizenship.

Statelessness refers to the condition of an individual who is not considered as a national by any State.

The Causes of Statelessness

UN Conventions on Statelessness

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

Problems Faced by Stateless People

Stateless people often live on the margins of society, their plight unseen, their voices unheard. Statelessness affects millions of people worldwide. Watch some of them talk about the impacts of statelessness on their lives.

• DONATE NOW •

 

• GET INVOLVED • • STAY INFORMED •

The Concept of Stateless Persons under International Law: Summary Conclusions

Expert meeting organized by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Prato, Italy, 27-28 May 2010

UNHCR and De Facto Statelessness

Legal and Protection Policy Research Series LPPR/2010/01, April 2010

Statelessness Documents on Refworld

Refworld contains a wealth of documents related to statelessness, including legal, policy and background information. Read more.