The very nature of statelessness can mean that a stateless person usually has no country to which they can return. If someone’s statelessness is not identified, and they find themselves with no route to legal residence in Europe, they can end up subject to repeated, unsuccessful removal attempts. In many countries, this can mean enduring repeated or prolonged periods of detention, which may be arbitrary.


There are clear international and European legal standards protecting people from arbitrary detention. In many cases these are reflected in safeguards against discrimination and arbitrariness in national legal frameworks. But because of the failure to identify statelessness and protect stateless people under the 1954 Convention, these safeguards are often not implemented. Authorities often assume that someone can be subject to detention for return even when their nationality status is unclear or they are stateless , significantly increasing the risk of unlawful or arbitrary detention.

In many countries, the risk is heightened by the lack of a dedicated statelessness determination procedure (SDP) and protection status, meaning that even if statelessness is identified, if the person does not qualify for refugee status or subsidiary protection (or another form of legal residence), there may be no legal pathway for them to regularise their status in the country. This protection gap, can leave people stuck in limbo, unable to stay, but with nowhere to go, and no country that will accept them.

The waiting is the worst part of detention. It’s like you don’t have any control any more, you just sit and wait. You wait for someone else to tell who you are and what is your country.

(Stateless man from Pakistan interviewed in Poland in 2015)

What more can be done?

  • Improve procedures for the identification and registration of statelessness and referral to SDPs to determine statelessness and grant protection status.
  • Improve guidance and awareness to prevent the arbitrary detention of stateless people. Ensure that statelessness is considered  as a juridically relevant fact in detention and return decisions, and that if someone claims to be stateless they are protected from detention, provided with information and legal assistance, and referred to a statelessness determination procedure to establish their nationality or entitlement to protection as a stateless person under the 1954 Convention.
  • Raise awareness with immigration detention actors (including lawyers and NGOs) on the specific situation and protection needs of stateless people, and ensure they have access to information and resources about statelessness and common profiles of those affected.

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.