The failure to identify and register statelessness on arrival does not only affect the prospects of nationality problems being addressed but can also have an impact on the outcome of refugee status determination procedures. Doubts about someone’s nationality can impact negatively on the assessment of credibility. Decision-makers may not adequately assess the impact of statelessness as part of the grounds for asylum, and/or grant protection as a stateless person (with corresponding rights) in the event that the refugee claim is refused. Where decision-makers lack the necessary expertise this may also delay the determination procedure.
For some stateless refugees, their experiences of statelessness in their country of origin are wholly or partly linked to their fear of persecution and reasons for seeking international protection in Europe. Other stateless refugees may be seeking protection from similar forms of persecution as people who are citizens of their country of origin, for example, stateless Syrians fleeing the conflict in Syria. In some European countries, the impact of being stateless in a country of origin is not well understood, and in some cases may (incorrectly) not be regarded as sufficient grounds to grant international protection. Contributing to this, is the lack of training, resources and statelessness-specific country of origin information available to determining authorities to inform and support their decision-making.
In some cases, errors made during the screening/registration process may be held against an applicant as evidence of lack of credibility if they give or are perceived to give different information about their nationality status at different points in the process. In other cases, determining authorities may take longer to reach a decision because they don’t have enough information about the situation of stateless people in a particular country of origin, and need to carry out additional research or contact external experts. In other cases, stateless refugees may not be aware of the relevance of their own nationality problems to their international protection claim, and may not have access to expert lawyers to support them in giving their best evidence in their asylum interview. All of these challenges can lead to stateless refugees being disadvantaged in the determination procedure, and their cases taking longer to be decided.
In many countries in Europe there is no dedicated procedure to formally determine someone’s statelessness (Statelessness Determination Procedure (SDP)) nor any legal framework to grant stateless people the rights and protection they are due under the 1954 Convention. This means that if they are refused refugee or subsidiary protection, they may be left in a legal limbo with no route to protection on the one hand, but no country to return to on the other. Stateless people in this situation can be at risk of lengthy and often arbitrary periods of detention. Some countries do have dedicated statelessness determination procedures, see for example Spain, Italy, France or the UK.
‘I went through three asylum procedures and one ‘no-fault procedure’. Statelessness was not considered as a ground for asylum. In the third asylum procedure, I was finally granted international protection but on different grounds. I believed my statelessness should have been enough to receive protection, but statelessness was not a factor. I feel discriminated against and rejected. Our reason for asylum [statelessness] lasts a lifetime, but we still don’t qualify for protection. If they reject me I can’t go anywhere.’
(Kuwaiti bidoon man interviewed in the Netherlands in March 2018)
What more can be done?
- Training and capacity-building should be provided to lawyers and officials responsible for making decisions on claims for international protection to ensure the impact of statelessness in different contexts is fully understood
- Signposting information should be available to ensure stateless refugees have access to lawyers and advisors with specialist expertise on statelessness and nationality rights
- Country of Origin Information (COI) should contain specific information about statelessness and nationality rights, and detailed information should be available to decision makers on the impact of statelessness in specific contexts
- There should be standardised procedures for the identification of statelessness and dedicated statelessness determination procedures should be in place to grant protection and rights as a stateless person to those who do not qualify for refugee protection
The European Network on Statelessness (ENS) is a civil society alliance of over 140 non-governmental organisations, academics and individual experts in 40 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.
The Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion (ISI) is the first and the only human rights NGO dedicated to working on statelessness at the global level. ISI’s mission is to promote inclusive societies by realising and protecting the right to a nationality. ISI is working to address discrimination and promote inclusive citizenship, realise every child’s right to a nationality, tackle statelessness as a cause and consequence of displacement, make the stateless visible to development programming and counter arbitrary deprivation of nationality, particularly in security contexts.