Statelessness in Europe
Significant efforts are being made throughout Europe to address and reduce statelessness, but UNHCR estimates that there were still more than 700.000 stateless people in the region at the start of 2012. The causes vary.
State succession has led to statelessness concerns in the Baltic states and the former republics of the Soviet Union. Today, about 420,000 people lack a nationality in Estonia and Lithuania. Despite the naturalization of more than 600,000 people in the Russian Federation, there are some 120,000 stateless people in Eastern Europe. They include people with expired Soviet passports who have not been able to acquire the nationality of the state in which they reside since the 1991 break-up of the Soviet Union. In the countries that once made up Yugoslavia, groups of people fell between the cracks of new nationality laws and became stateless. Though many managed to establish nationality, minority groups in south-eastern Europe, especially the Roma, continue to face difficulties accessing the documents necessary to acquire or confirm nationality. Throughout Europe, gaps in nationality legislation continue to create situations of statelessness.
Stateless people often live at the margins of society, sometimes with severe impacts on their lives. Statelessness can limit access to a wide range of rights, including birth registration, access to identity documentation, education, health care, employment, property ownership, political participation and freedom of movement.
On the plus side, four European countries have acceded since 2011 to the 1954 Convention on the Status of Stateless Persons and five countries to the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness. And at a UNHCR-convened ministerial meeting in Geneva in December 2011, more than 20 European governments made statelessness-related pledges. In 2012, Moldova and Georgia implemented their pledge to establish statelessness determination procedures while the European Union, at a meeting in New York, pledged universal accession by all its member states to the 1954 Convention (only Malta, Cyprus, Poland and Estonia remain).
UNHCR continues to help governments in Europe to address statelessness. We suggest amendments to nationality legislations that include safeguards against statelessness. We also provide technical support for the establishment and strengthening of statelessness determination procedures and, with the help of partner organizations, we assist stateless people accessing civil registration documents and nationality.