Statelessness in Europe

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© UNHCR/B.Szandelszky

Among the millions of stateless people worldwide, the UN refugee agency estimates that more than 680,000 live in Europe. But significant efforts are under way throughout Europe to address and reduce statelessness, which can leave people at the margins of society and restrict their access to a wide range of basic rights.

The causes of statelessness in Europe vary. The dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 has led to statelessness in the Baltic states and in Eastern Europe. Today, more than 370,000 people lack a nationality in Estonia and Latvia. Despite significant efforts to promote the naturalization of stateless people in the region, resulting in the acquisition of nationality by more than 600,000 people in the Russian Federation, some 225,000 people are reported as stateless or with undetermined nationality 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 break-up of the Soviet Union. In the countries that once made up Yugoslavia, groups of people fell between the cracks created by new nationality laws and became stateless. Though many have managed to establish their nationality, members of minority groups in south-eastern Europe, especially the Roma, continue to face difficulties accessing the documents necessary to confirm nationality. Throughout Europe, gaps in nationality legislation continue to create situations of statelessness.

On the plus side, five European countries have acceded since December 2011 to the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons and seven countries to the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness. At a Geneva conference in 2011, more than 20 European governments made statelessness-related pledges. The following year, Moldova and Georgia implemented their pledges to establish a statelessness determination procedure and the Russian Federation adopted legislation to further facilitate the acquisition of nationality for certain categories of stateless people. The European Union has pledged in 2012 to achieve universal accession to the 1954 Convention by all its member states. Only Malta, Cyprus, Poland and Estonia have yet to accede.

UNHCR continues to help governments in Europe to address statelessness. The refugee agency suggests amendments to nationality legislations that include safeguards against statelessness in line with international standards. It also provides technical support for the establishment and strengthening of statelessness determination procedures and, with the help of partner organizations, UNHCR assists stateless people accessing civil registration documents and confirming or acquiring nationality, in particular in eastern and south-eastern Europe. In 2014, UNHCR will commemorate the 60th anniversary of the 1954 Convention with initiatives throughout Europe.

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