Due to lack of documentation and proof of family links, as well as exclusion from state bureaucracy in countries of residence, stateless people can face insurmountable barriers to family reunification, resettlement and other complementary pathways to protection, which are exacerbated by inflexible procedures and strict eligibility requirements.


Stateless people can face many obstacles to Family Reunification at different stages of the process. The first major obstacle is evidencing family relationships. Stateless refugees may not have the kinds of documentation (such as a family book or birth certificates) required by European authorities to prove family links. This can be compounded by family members’ inability to travel and access the consular authorities of the relevant European state. In order to prove family ties in the absence of documentation, DNA tests may be required, which can be intrusive, expensive, difficult and impossible to obtain where family members are residing. In some cases, people have to take significant risks to travel through conflict zones to attend appointments and satisfy procedural requirements. In countries hosting large populations of refugees, freedom of movement can be restricted and logistics complicated, meaning that stateless family members, lacking documentation, may be forced to travel irregularly, and insecurity and lack of infrastructure can mean that appointments may be missed. Inflexible time frames for family reunification procedures can mean that deadlines are then missed and procedures must be reinitiated.

Stateless refugees may also find themselves excluded from other legal channels to Europe due to their lack of a passport or other forms of documentation. In some cases, eligibility for specific resettlement programmes for example, has been restricted to Syrian nationals, or barriers to accessing programmes have been reported by Palestinian refugees due to the operational mandate of United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA).

‘After all these months of waiting, we are very afraid that our relatives will still not be permitted to leave Syria and they will miss yet another appointment at the [Dutch] Embassy. We have really tired ourselves out to get this appointment through our lawyer and our relatives have tired themselves out to get exit permissions from too many governmental offices, and still we don’t know if it will work. If they miss another appointment, I am afraid it will look like we are not serious about reuniting our family in the Netherlands, but really none of this is our fault. We want nothing more than to bring our mother and siblings here, but there are so many complications because we are stateless …’

(Stateless Syrian woman interviewed in the Netherlands in April 2018)

What more can be done?

  • Guarantee equal access to the right to family life by ensuring all family members of refugees have equal access to family reunification regardless of their nationality status
  • Family reunion procedures must take account of and make allowances for the specific circumstances of stateless refugees and family members.
  • Receiving states should have a greater awareness of the documentation and evidence available and accessible to stateless people in different contexts, and should not expect people to undertake risky journeys through conflict zones to access procedures.
  • Procedures for family reunion, resettlement or other complementary routes to protection must take account of statelessness and nationality rights, and include the possibility of exemptions and flexibility in evidential requirements in order to prevent discrimination against stateless people
  • The knowledge and capacity of officials making decisions on applications for complementary protection, resettlement, and family reunion should be strengthened through training and information provision on 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.