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Statelessness

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 339,000 stateless people were living in the Nordic and Baltic countries (2019 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 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 decisionmakers 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 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 committed to a total of 350 specific and measurable pledges to end statelessness. Pledges also came from the Nordic and Baltic countries, including on introducing safeguards to prevent childhood statelessness (Estonia, Iceland, and Finland), and to implement statelessness determination procedures (Estonia, Iceland, and Latvia). Other countries pledged to continue their efforts to prevent statelessness or to withdraw current reservations to the Statelessness Conventions.

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.

Take action

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 and SOAS in joint seminar on statelessness

UNHCR and SOAS in joint seminar on statelessness

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, has together with the Swedish Organization Against Statelessness (SOAS) produced the joint seminar “The right to a nationality – the right to human rights” on the issue of statelessness. The seminar explores the causes...