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What is Statelessness?

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© UNHCR/N.Lukin

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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Handbook on Protection of Stateless Persons

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

Statelessness Documents on Refworld

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