Although international law recognises that the solution to statelessness is access to a nationality, stateless people can face many barriers to naturalisation. The 1954 Convention on the Status of Stateless Persons requires states to ‘make every effort to facilitate the naturalisation of stateless people’. But very few countries adhere to this obligation. Few provisions to facilitate access to naturalisation for stateless people exist in law, and even where they do, they are often not implemented properly.
Access to a nationality through facilitated naturalisation is one of the key ways to resolve a person’s statelessness. This is clearly enshrined in international law in the 1954 Convention on the Status of Stateless Persons, reflecting a similar provision in the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees. A facilitated route to naturalisation is key to integration and stability for the individual concerned, their family and community, the society they live in, and for the global goal of reducing, and ultimately ending, statelessness.
Nonetheless, very few countries in Europe have provisions in law or policy to facilitate access to a nationality for stateless migrants and refugees, and where they do exist, they are often not implemented or are inaccessible in practice. The failure toidentify statelessness and nationality problems means that not all those who should be able to benefit from facilitated procedures are aware of their rights to do so, or considered eligible, for example, if their nationality is registered as ‘unknown’.
Even where statelessness is identified and people are aware of their rights, there can be significant hurdles that prove impossible for stateless people to overcome. For example, in some countries a birth certificate is required to apply for naturalisation, which makes the procedure inaccessible for many stateless people. In other countries, a passport or proof of renunciation of a former nationality is required. Sometimes naturalisation procedures incur a very high cost, which can be prohibitive. There may also be a citizenship test, language or minimum income requirements, which can all pose barriers for stateless people seeking to resolve their situation.
For persons that are registered as ‘nationality unknown’, they encounter problems because they need to provide a passport for naturalisation, and for which country will be determined by [the immigration authorities]. [For people registered as ‘stateless’] one thing that could be difficult is that [although exempted from providing a passport] they still need to provide a birth certificate to naturalise.
(Municipal registry officer interviewed in the Netherlands in March 2018)
What more can be done?
- Facilitated routes to naturalisation should be enshrined in law and policy in line with the 1954 Convention.
- States should ‘make every effort to facilitate access to naturalisation’ for stateless people, including by exempting them from impossible documentation requirements, waiving fees and reducing language/testing requirements as appropriate.
- Citizenship officials should have a greater awareness of the specific circumstances of stateless people and the barriers they may face to complying with evidential and other requirements for naturalisation.
Initiative led by:
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.