FAQ

What is statelessness?
It refers to someone who has no citizenship at all. Typically stateless people have no legal status in the country they are living in.

How is it possible to not have any nationality?
Though the United Nations says that everyone has a right to a nationality, there are many ways that someone can become stateless. Sometimes totalitarian governments use citizenship as a weapon, stripping it from political opponents. In other cases innocent people fall through cracks in immigration or citizenship laws – for instance some Soviet citizens later found that they failed to qualify for nationality under any of the post-Soviet republics’ citizenship laws. The same has happened in the former Yugoslavia. In Europe there are many ethnic Russians who have never been citizenship by the Baltic states where they live. There are also many victims of conflicts such as in Syria and Palestine, who immigrate to Europe or the United States and end up in a legal limbo.

Why are you focusing on the United States and the European Union?
The United States and Europe have been strong, united voices against statelessness. But they have done little to solve the problem in their own backyards.

What are the consequences?
It depends on the country. In the United States and much of Europe, many stateless people are put in deportation proceedings. But when no country will accept them, they are released into a life of legal limbo. In the meantime, stateless people are often denied basic rights such as the right to work, study or travel freely.

How many people are stateless?
About 10 million worldwide. Most are in the developing world, but in the In the European Union there thought to be up to 600,000 stateless people. In the United States estimates vary between 4,000 and up to 10,000.

So why are you focusing on the United States and the European Union?
The United States and Europe have been strong, united voices against statelessness. But they have done little to solve the problem in their own backyards.

Who is working to solve this problem?
Some of the best known organizations include the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Refugees International. In the European Union, the European Network on Statelessness also plays a key role.

What can be done to fix statelessness in the U.S. and Europe?
Every country has its own complex set of immigration laws. In the United States, for instance, a provision to offer relief to law abiding stateless people has been introduced in so-called “comprehensive immigration reform bills.” Seven EU countries – France, Hungary Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom and Latvia – have statelessness determination proceedings that can lead to formal benefits in those countries. But many countries fear that establishing statelessness determination processes could lead to immigrants abusing those benefits – although there’s no evidence that has happened.

Are there any international frameworks to deal with this?
The Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons and the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness offer basic protections. The United States is party to neither of these conventions. In the European Union, Cyprus, Malta, Estonia and Poland haven’t acceded to the Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons. Cyrpus, Estonia, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, Poland, Slovenia and Spain haven’t yet acceded to the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness.