Everybody has a right to belong
It is a human right to have a nationality, but today millions of people around the world are denied a nationality – they are stateless.
As a result, they may have difficulty accessing basic rights such as an education, healthcare, employment, and the freedom of movement. Perhaps they are not even allowed to open a bank account, buy a house, get a travel document, or get married.
Statelessness often affects minorities – and stateless people risk facing a lifetime of obstacles and marginalization. Together with States, organizations, and other partners, UNHCR has set an ambitious goal of ending statelessness by 2024.
Read more about our #IBelong campaign here.
UNHCR is mandated by the United Nations’ General Assembly to identify and protect stateless people and to reduce and prevent statelessness.
Statelessness is a man-made problem, caused by a number of factors such as gaps or discrimination in nationality laws, e.g. based on gender, race, or religion. In countries where nationality is only acquired by descent from another person of that nationality, statelessness will be passed from generation to generation. Lack of birth registration can put people at risk of statelessness, and statelessness can also arise in situations of displacement, changes in borders, and the emergence of new states, for example when minority groups have challenges in proving their link to their country.
Learn more about statelessness here.
Statelessness in the Nordic and Baltic countries
Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, and Sweden are parties to both the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless people and the 1961 Convention on Reducing Statelessness.
In general, data on statelessness remains a challenge, given that stateless people often live on the margins of society, are not per definition recognized as citizens, and not all countries have definitions or processes in place for identifying stateless people. Nevertheless, UNHCR estimates, based on available data, that more than 325,000 stateless people were living in the Nordic and Baltic countries (2020 figures, including non-citizens in Latvia, and persons with undetermined citizenship in Estonia).
UNHCR’s Representation for the Nordic and Baltic Countries has in recent years undertaken mappings of statelessness in all Nordic and two Baltic countries with the ambition to raise awareness about statelessness and provide a better understanding of the situation of stateless persons. In addition, the objective has been to contribute to a continued dialogue with authorities and decision–makers to strengthen the protection of stateless persons and continue the dialogue to reduce and limit statelessness in these countries.
- Mapping statelessness in Denmark (2020)
- Mapping Statelessness in Sweden (2016)
- Mapping Statelessness in Estonia (2016)
- Mapping Statelessness in Lithuania (2016)
- Mapping statelessness in Norway (2015)
- Mapping Statelessness in Finland (2014)
- Mapping Statelessness in Iceland (2014)
Challenges and progress in the region
Recent years have seen much progress on statelessness in the Nordic and Baltic countries. Formerly stateless persons have been granted citizenship in several countries, and steps have been taken to improve the identification of stateless persons.
Gaps and challenges nevertheless remain, and UNHCR advocates for several countries to establish statelessness determination procedures, and to put in place safeguards for children born stateless in their territory.
At a High-level event on Statelessness in 2019 – that served to highlight the halfway point of the ten year long #IBelong campaign – States, civil society, and organizations committed to a total of 360 specific and measurable pledges to end statelessness. Pledges also came from the Nordic and Baltic countries, including on introducing safeguards to prevent childhood statelessness and to implement statelessness determination procedures (Lithuania). Denmark and Sweden pledged to continue their efforts to prevent statelessness or to withdraw current reservations to the Statelessness Conventions (Sweden).
Reports & other resources
5 things to know about statelessness
Brochure developed by UNHCR Representation for the Nordic and Baltic Countries in November 2020. Link here.
Global Action Plan
In 2014, UNHCR together with partners launched a 10-year campaign and global action plan with 10 concrete action points to end statelessness by 2024. Link here.
Join our #IBelong campaign by signing and sharing our Open Letter to End Statelessness by 2024. Here, you can also find the latest news on developments in the global fight to end statelessness.
Ending child statelessness
Children without a nationality are particularly vulnerable – not only do they risk having limited access to education and healthcare, but lack of official documents can put them at greater risk of falling victim to abuse and trafficking.
In 2016, UNHCR and UNICEF jointly launched the Coalition on Every Child’s Right to a Nationality. In 2019, this resulted in a specific campaign focused on ending childhood statelessness in Europe.
Three groups of children are particularly affected by this issue:
- Children born stateless in Europe, for example because their parents are stateless or because they cannot inherit their parents’ nationality due to gaps or discrimination in nationality laws.
- Children who are not registered at birth, for example in vulnerable minority populations like the Roma.
- Children who come to Europe as refugees or asylum-seekers and are stateless from their home country.
UNHCR and UNICEF have jointly provided a set of recommendations to address childhood statelessness in Europe:
- Ensuring that every stateless refugee or migrant child is properly identified and protected upon arrival in Europe.
- Simplifying procedures to enable stateless children to acquire a nationality as soon as possible.
- Adopting or amending legislation to include safeguards granting nationality to all children born in a country who would otherwise be stateless.
News and activities on Statelessness
UNHCR’s Grandi urges action to resolve plight of stateless ‘living in the shadows’
Stronger efforts are needed to resolve the plight of those who lack a nationality, urged UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, today on the 8th anniversary of UNHCR’s global #IBelong Campaign to End Statelessness. Affecting at least 4.3 million people,...
UNHCR welcomes European commitments at regional statelessness consultation
MADRID – UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, hosted a two-day regional consultation in Madrid on the identification of stateless people and statelessness determination procedures on 20 and 21 October. The consultations brought together 31 European countries to help work...
UNHCR and SOAS launch statelessness exhibition in Sweden
UNHCR and SOAS are jointly launching the photo exhibition We Belong: Global Faces of Statelessness on 24 October at Folkuniversitetet in Stockholm.
Two events on statelessness organized in Iceland
Together with the Icelandic Directorate of Immigration, UNHCR organized an open seminar, highlighting Iceland’s accession to the Statelessness Conventions and the progress of the #IBelong-campaign, as well as a technical workshop for legal practitioners.
UNHCR’s observations to proposed amendments to the Finnish Citizenship Act
UNHCR’s Representation for the Nordic and Baltic Countries has submitted its observations on the proposed amendments to the Finnish Citizenship Act. UNHCR supports the law proposal and welcomes that several of the observations submitted by UNHCR to the preliminary...
UNHCR observations to report on requirements for Swedish citizenship
UNHCR’s Representation for the Nordic and Baltic Countries has submitted its observations on the “Final report of the inquiry on language and social studies requirements for Swedish citizenship and other citizenship issues” UNHCR welcomes that the starting point in...