Statelessness is a hidden problem affecting many refugees arriving in Europe. According to Eurostat, of the four million people who applied for asylum in the EU in 2015-2018, more than 115,000 were recorded as ‘stateless’, of ‘unknown nationality’, or their nationality was recorded as ‘Palestine’. Many more come from countries with problematic nationality laws, such as Syria, Iraq, Somalia, Iran, Eritrea or Sudan, where gender discrimination or state succession means they or their children are at risk of statelessness. People affected by statelessness face discrimination if reasonable accommodation is not made for their nationality problems in international protection procedures and the provision of essential services. Most countries in Europe are inadequately prepared to respond: only a handful have procedures in place to determine who is stateless on their territory and grant them the specific rights enshrined in international and regional law with respect to the protection of stateless people and the right to a nationality.

What is the refugee context in Greece?

Greece experienced a significant increase in arrivals of people seeking international protection in 2015, which has continued through 2017. Trends in onward movement have shifted since the EU-Turkey agreement in March 2016. The Greek Asylum Service reports 58,661 asylum applications were lodged in Greece in 2017. The top recorded countries of origin of asylum applicants in 2017 were Syria (42%), Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan, Albania, Bangladesh, Iran, Palestine, Georgia and Egypt. According to the Asylum Information Database, the proportion of women (22%) and children (37%) arriving has increased, amounting to 59% of arrivals by sea. Reception facilities are critically overcrowded, there have been outbreaks of violence in Moria Camp on Lesvos, and conditions have been strongly criticised. Access to the procedure, to legal advice, and delays in decision making are also reported as areas of concern.

What is the legal situation for stateless people in Greece?

Greece is state party to the 1954 Convention on the Status of Stateless Persons, the UN Convention that defines a stateless person and sets out the rights that should be granted to stateless people (such as, a residence permit, right to work, study, family reunion, and naturalisation). Greece is not state party to the 1961 Convention on the Prevention and Reduction of Statelessness nor the 1997 European Convention on Nationality, which contain important safeguards against childhood statelessness and arbitrary deprivation of nationality.  There is no dedicated Statelessness Determination Procedure in Greece. Although in April 2016 Law 4375/2016 assigned responsibility for implementing a Procedure to the Greek Asylum Service and authorised a Presidential Decree to be issued setting out the details, this Decree has not yet been published. Greek nationality law contains provisions to safeguard children born on its territory from statelessness, but it’s not clear how these are implemented in practice.

Why is statelessness relevant to the refugee response in Greece?

Although reliable data on statelessness among refugee arrivals in Greece is limited, according to actors on the ground, populations affected by statelessness are present among arrivals. The most commonly encountered stateless people include Bidoon from Kuwait, stateless Kurds, Palestinians, as well as individuals affected by nationality problems from Pakistan and Afghanistan. A small number of Rohingya from Myanmar have also been identified. Some of the key statelessness-related challenges emerging from our research in the Greek context are highlighted below.


Arrival & Registration
  • Nationality problems are not being accurately identified and recorded on arrival.
  • Stateless people report reluctance to convey their nationality problems to authorities.
  • There is a general lack of awareness of the implications of statelessness and the rights and protections afforded to stateless people under international law.
  • The failure to identify or record statelessness on arrival, leads to registration with imputed nationality or ‘unknown’ nationality, which can later be difficult to correct.
  • It is unclear on what basis and with what motivation nationality is being imputed, practice varies across different agencies, and there is a lack of procedural clarity.
  • Stateless women, men and children are potentially at greater risk of exploitation on their journeys due to their lack of documentation and legal status.
Determination of international protection status
  • A lack of clarity about someone’s nationality can impact on the assessment of credibility.
  • Individuals report concerns that their statelessness could negatively impact their asylum claim and/or that referrals made on the basis of country of origin/former residence mean they might not even have the opportunity to explain their statelessness to the Greek Asylum Service (e.g. those from Pakistan).
  • Concerning the fast track procedure, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants highlighted in 2017 that the provisions on exceptional derogation measures for people applying for asylum at the border raise “serious concerns over due process guarantees”. In 2018, the European Ombudsman found that “there are genuine concerns about the quality of the admissibility interviews as well as about the procedural fairness of how they are conducted.” In February 2019, FRA noted that “almost three years of experience [of processing asylum claims in facilities at borders] in Greece shows, [that] this approach creates fundamental rights challenges that appear almost unsurmountable.” The additional pressure on the Asylum Service to accelerate the asylum procedure may undermine the quality of first instance decisions.
  • Concerning the Appeals Committees, in recent years the second instance recognition rate has decreased significantly raising concerns about the operation of an efficient and fair asylum procedure in Greece.
  • Delays in the procedure have been reported when statelessness is disclosed to allow for gathering of information due to decision-makers lacking relevant knowledge/expertise.
  • There is a lack of access to legal advisors specialised in statelessness generally in some areas (e.g. Lesvos), and a lack of information available to applicants on nationality rights and statelessness specifically.
  • Interpreters and ‘cultural mediators’ are reportedly influencing official decisions on nationality status in some cases inappropriately or without the necessary training or expertise.
Immigration detention
  • If statelessness is not adequately addressed in the procedure it can lead to prolonged – and risk of arbitrary or unlawful – detention.
  • There is still no dedicated Statelessness Determination Procedure in Greece so it’s not clear what the legal routes to protection are under the 1954 Convention if a stateless person is refused refugee protection.
  • Due to the lack of an individual assessment procedure prior to the imposition of a detention order and lack of effective, periodic detention reviews, individuals can be subject to return procedures and prolonged detention even if their nationality is unknown and without proper determination of nationality status.
Child’s right to a nationality
  • The lack of awareness of the implications of statelessness and gender discrimination in nationality laws leads to inconsistent implementation of the safeguard in Greek law to grant nationality to otherwise stateless children born in the country.
  • Children’s nationality is routinely registered as the same as their parents on their asylum ID without examining whether a parent can confer a nationality to the child.
  • Since there is no dedicated Statelessness Determination Procedure in Greece the identification of statelessness is at the full discretion of the Ministry of Interior.
  • The naturalisation procedure for stateless people in Greece cannot be adequately implemented, as stateless people face many obstacles to regularising their residence status in Greece, which is a necessary condition for access to naturalisation.

What are the priority areas for action to address statelessness in the Greek context?

  • Procedural clarity and clear guidance is required to support accurate identification, registration and recording of statelessness and nationality problems among new arrivals
  • Capacity-building and resources are required for key actors involved in the refugee response
  • Information on rights is required in formats and languages accessible to affected individuals and communities on the ground
  • A dedicated Statelessness Determination Procedure should be established to enable Greece to meet its international obligations under the 1954 Convention and reduce the risk of arbitrary detention
  • Accurate birth registration must be guaranteed for all children born in Greece irrespective of the status of their parents, and the child’s right to a nationality upheld in practice
  • Safeguards in Greek nationality law must be implemented in practice to prevent childhood statelessness arising from the current refugee context in Greece
  • A facilitated route to naturalisation should be implemented in line with the 1954 Convention

Initiative led by:

European Network on Statelessness

The European Network on Statelessness (ENS) is a civil society alliance of over 150 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.