There is no standardised procedure to identify and register statelessness on arrival in Europe, so stateless refugees are often wrongly ‘assigned’ a nationality by officials during nationality screening based on their country of origin or language or may be recorded as having ‘unknown’ nationality. This can cause a range of problems later when people try to correct errors in the information recorded on arrival, and obscures the true scale of statelessness as accurate data is not available.


Stateless people often encounter discrimination because there are no legal frameworks or standardised procedures in place to adequately respond to cases where someone seeking protection does not have a nationality. This is true across many different procedures, from STATUS DETERMINATION, to FAMILY REUNIFICATION and NATURALISATION, as well as in the context of DETENTION and RETURN. At the root of many of these problems is the failure to accurately identify and record nationality problems during registration/screening, when someone first comes into contact with asylum authorities in Europe.

Specific responses have been developed in Europe to protect the rights of survivors of human trafficking, for example, to standardise frameworks for screening and referral to appropriate support and protection. The phenomenon of human trafficking is relatively well documented, understood, and recognised by those who may encounter people affected in the course of their work. There is no standardised framework to identify, record and refer people affected by statelessness on arrival in Europe, to ensure that their specific rights are protected.

‘Registration’ or ‘screening’ is the procedure during which a person’s claim for international protection is first recorded. If statelessness is missed or nationality status misrecorded at this stage, it  can be very difficult to correct later. Officials responsible for identifying and recording nationality status often lack awareness about statelessness and who might be affected. Very little training or  information resources are available to screening officials, which can lead to misconceptions about nationality status and statelessness. Even if statelessness is identified, officials may not know how to proceed because the systems are not in place to record it and refer people to a Statelessness Determination Procedure (SDP) to have their status as a stateless person determined. In some cases, it may be perceived as a ‘failure’ to be unable to establish and record a person’s nationality, especially if there is no box to tick for ‘stateless’.

Some stateless people might be afraid to convey their nationality problems to the authorities if they mistrust officials due to experiences in their country of origin;  if they are unaware of their own legal status as a stateless person; or if they believe that they will be disadvantaged in the status determination process because they lack a nationality (for example, a stateless person from Syria may be more likely to be granted refugee protection as a ‘Syrian’ due to authorities’ lack of awareness of the situation of stateless people in Syria.

The failure to identify statelessness at screening can lead to registration with an imputed nationality (as in the case where a stateless Syrian is registered as ‘Syrian’ or where a Kuwaiti bidoon is registered as having ‘Iraqi’ or ‘Kuwaiti’ nationality), or as ‘nationality unknown’ or ‘undetermined’. Stateless people report widespread conflation of country of origin with country of nationality, contributing to the invisibility of statelessness in statistics and impacting on a person’s subsequent treatment in the status determination process.

I tried to show the hospital record during the first reception interview, but they were not interested. They said that we are Iraqis. I explained that we are not, that we are Bidoon from Kuwait, but they wouldn’t listen.

(Stateless bidoon man from Kuwait interviewed in Greece in March 2018)

What more can be done?

  • Ensure accurate identification and registration of nationality status (including where someone claims to be stateless) during registration/screening procedures by:
    • Ensuring responsible officials have a basic understanding of statelessness and nationality problems, and access to information about common profiles of those affected
    • Standardising procedures to support accurate  identification and recording of statelessness
    • Exercising extreme caution in the use of the term ‘unknown nationality’ as an alternative to accurate identification and recording of nationality status, and referral to a statelessness determination procedure.
    • Putting in place procedures for reviewing and correcting errors in the recording of nationality status and ensuring access to these for  people affecte
    • Putting in place referral mechanisms to ensure stateless status is determined in a dedicated procedure at an appropriate juncture in international protection proceedings.
  • Interpreters, cultural mediators, lawyers, civil society organisations and community groups should have access to information, training and resources to support their work with people affected by statelessness and should be empowered to assist stateless refugees to understand their rights where appropriate.
  • Dedicated SDPs should be established in countries that do not yet have them, in line with good practice and international norms.

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.