Nationality is a legal bond between a state and an individual. Nationality provides people with a sense of identity and, more importantly, enables them to exercise a wide range of rights.
Despite the body of international law relating to the acquisition, loss, or denial of citizenship, an estimated 12 million people around the world have no nationality today. Statelessness occurs for a variety of reasons including conflict of laws, the transfer of territory, marriage laws, administrative practices, discrimination, lack of birth registration, denationalization and renunciation.
Statelessness has a terrible impact on the lives of individuals. Possession of nationality is essential for full participation in society and a prerequisite for the enjoyment of the full range of human rights. Furthermore, selected rights such as the right to vote may only be limited to nationals. Stateless people are often unable to obtain identity documents; they may be detained because they are stateless; and they could be denied access to education and health services or blocked from obtaining employment.
Stateless people may sometimes also be refugees, but the two categories are distinct. Since 1995 UNHCR has a mandate to work with governments to prevent statelessness from occurring, to resolve those cases that do occur and to protect the rights of stateless people.
In Central Europe, stateless cases are relatively few by global comparison but some countries do have significant numbers. While updated government statistics are not available, in Slovakia and Poland there are an estimated 1,000 stateless people in each country. In Slovenia, where a certain group of people lost their legal status after the country declared its independence in 1991, the number of stateless people is yet unknown.