UNHCR hails move by United Kingdom to end legal limbo for stateless people

The procedure allows stateless people, now living on the margins of society and in legal limbo, a route to be recognized as stateless and to legalize their presence in the UK.

Interviews are an essential part of the stateless determination process.   © UNHCR/D.Telemans

GENEVA, April 9 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency on Tuesday welcomed a new stateless determination procedure that has just come into effect in the United Kingdom and said it was a "landmark step."

UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming said the procedure, which came into force at the weekend, "allows stateless people, currently living on the margins of society and in legal limbo, a route to be formally recognized as stateless and to legalize their presence in the UK." Speaking to journalists in Geneva, she added that "as such, it is a landmark step."

The new procedure is also a positive example to other countries that are parties to the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons but which have not taken steps to implement the Convention by establishing a statelessness determination procedure and a protection status for stateless people.

Introduction and implementation of a fair and efficient procedure to identify stateless people in the UK was one of the key recommendations of a 2011 study carried out by UNHCR and its NGO partner, Asylum Aid.

This research - conducted in the context of the 50th anniversary of the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness - found that stateless people who had come to the UK in a migration context were not being identified as such. This put them at risk of destitution, as well as costly immigration detention and lack of access to basic rights and services.

During 2012, UNHCR provided input to the UK Home Office (Interior Ministry) on the design of a procedure which would allow for the identification of stateless individuals and which would ensure that they receive protection.

A key feature of the new procedure is that it assesses whether an individual does in fact possess a nationality or whether they require protection in the UK. The 2011 research found that there are around 150 to 200 people each year who claim asylum and are recorded as being stateless by the Home Office.

“Establishment of a determination procedure in the UK is a key step to ensuring that stateless people there enjoy protection,” said Mark Manly, head of UNHCR’s statelessness unit. “We call on other states which face similar situations to respond as the UK has.”

Britain has ratified both the statelessness conventions. The UK's new procedure is among several recent developments internationally regarding statelessness. In the first three months of 2013 Ukraine has acceded to the 1954 and 1961 conventions while Jamaica has acceded to the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness. There have been an unprecedented 26 accessions to the two statelessness conventions in the past two years as a result of a UNHCR campaign.