The experience and impact of statelessness in someone’s country of origin can affect their migration options, strategies and decisions. Stateless people can be at greater risk of exploitation, and may face additional difficulties navigating bureaucracies, or when seeking to access different pathways to protection, due to their marginalisation and lack of documentation.


An increasing number of the people seeking protection in Europe each year are stateless or at risk of statelessness. Their lack of nationality may be (part of) the reason that they have left their country of origin – as in the case of Rohingya from Myanmar (who are not formally recognised by the Government as one of the 135 official national ethnic groups of Myanmar). Or, stateless people may be among those displaced by more generalised violence or conflict – as in the case of those affected by the war in Syria.

Statelessness is often the result of discrimination and stateless people can find themselves severely socially, politically and economically disadvantaged. Difficulties they commonly face in their countries of origin include lack of access to civil registration and documentation, formal education and employment, healthcare, equal marriage and property rights. Stateless people often also distrust authorities due to experiences (or fear) of arrest, harassment and detention over the course of their lives. All of this can affect people’s migration options, strategies and decisions, and put them at increased risk of exploitation during their journeys. It’s important to recognise that stateless people are not a homogenous group, and to consider the multiple forms of discrimination and disadvantage that may be faced by stateless women, men and children in different contexts.

Stateless people may be further disadvantaged in the bureaucratic systems and processes that people seeking protection in Europe must navigate as they are very likely to have been marginalised by state administrative practices over the course of their lives. For example, some stateless people may have been prevented from accessing schooling and therefore have low literacy levels. Many stateless people will have never had any documentation, which can make journeys to seek protection more difficult or prolonged. Crucially, this can affect what happens at REGISTRATION / SCREENING as well as during the REFUGEE STATUS DETERMINATION PROCEDURE.

The Greek police didn’t know that there were Palestinian refugees in Syria. They asked many questions, but eventually, they let me continue to Athens. However, once in the Greek capital, the police there did not permit me to cross the border into Macedonia like other Syrians travelling to northern Europe. ‘They were holding me at the border and not letting me cross, saying “Syrians only”.

Testimony of Mazen, a 30-year old stateless Palestinian from Syria, interviewed in the Netherlands in April 2018.

What more can be done?

  • Strengthen capacity and awareness among border guards and others responsible for initial registration procedures about statelessness as a phenomenon affecting people seeking protection in Europe.
  • Put systems and procedures in place to improve the identification of statelessness during nationality screening and refer people to procedures to determine their nationality status at an appropriate point in international protection proceedings.
  • Improve the information and resources available to border guards, police, frontline workers and community and civil society organisations working with refugees about statelessness and nationality problems.

Initiative led by:

European Network on Statelessness

The European Network on Statelessness (ENS) is a civil society alliance of over 170 non-governmental organisations, academics and individual experts in 41 countries, committed to addressing statelessness in Europe. ENS believes that everyone has the right to a nationality and that those who lack nationality altogether – stateless persons – are entitled to full protection of their human rights.