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 the Netherlands?

The Netherlands is usually considered a destination country by refugees in Europe. Data from the Dutch Government and Eurostat show a gradual decrease in the number of first-time asylum applications since 2015. In 2015, 43,093 applications were lodged compared to 14,716 in 2017. Of these, 120 were submitted by people recorded as ‘stateless’, 310 in 2016 and 2,399 in 2015. 12,477 ‘stateless’ people recognised as refugees were recorded in the Netherlands in 2017 by the national statistics bureau (CBS) compared to 2,005 in 2012. The increase is mainly attributed to stateless refugees from Syria.

What is the legal situation for stateless people in the Netherlands?

The Netherlands is state party to all the relevant UN and European statelessness conventions. Although it has reservations to the 1954 Convention on the Status of Stateless Persons (which defines and enshrines the rights to be granted to stateless people), it has committed to removing these. There is no dedicated statelessness determination procedure in the Netherlands, although the parliament is  considering legislation in this area in 2019. Currently, there are two possible administrative procedures for a person to register as stateless depending on whether they are legally residing in the country. Identification as a stateless person does not lead to permission to stay, though a legally residing stateless person who registers may have access to a travel document and a facilitated route to naturalisation. The definition of a stateless person in Dutch law is narrower than the 1954 Convention. For more information on statelessness in the Netherlands, see the Statelessness Index country page.

Why is statelessness relevant to the refugee response in the Netherlands?

There is no fully reliable data on statelessness among refugees in the Netherlands. This is due to the absence of a procedure to determine who is stateless and grant them a residence permit, and the inability of stateless people without a residence permit to register as a stateless person at their Municipality. In addition, there is no data on the number of children born to stateless refugees. The largest population of refugees affected by statelessness in the Netherlands are Palestinians, although there are also cases of Kuwaiti Bidoon, Rohingya, stateless Kurds, and people from the former USSR. Some of the key statelessness-related challenges emerging from our research in the Dutch context are highlighted below.

Arrival & Registration
  • Nationality problems are not being accurately identified and recorded on arrival.
  • The failure to identify or record statelessness, leads to registration with imputed nationality or ‘unknown’ nationality, which can later be difficult to correct as there is a high evidentiary standard to establish statelessness.
  • A residence permit and documents to ‘prove’ statelessness are needed for individuals to be registered as stateless by Municipalities.
  • There is a general lack of awareness of the implications of statelessness and the rights and protections afforded to stateless people under international law.
Determination of refugee status
  • A lack of clarity about someone’s nationality can impact on the assessment of credibility.
  • There is a general lack of awareness of statelessness issues by authorities.
  • Stateless people report their nationality problems not being adequately addressed in the procedure leading to a higher likelihood of protection being refused.
  • There is no statelessness determination procedure in the Netherlands so it’s not clear what the legal routes to protection are under the 1954 Convention if a stateless person is refused refugee protection under the 1951 Convention.
Immigration detention
  • If statelessness is not adequately addressed in the procedure it can lead to prolonged – and risk of arbitrary or unlawful – detention.
  • There appears to be a commonly held belief among officials that individuals can be subject to return procedures and removed even if they are stateless.
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 to grant Dutch nationality to otherwise stateless children born in the country.
  • There is a limited facilitated naturalisation procedure for stateless people in the Netherlands (they can apply after three years as opposed to five and are exempt from the requirement to provide a passport) but a birth certificate is still necessary, which cannot be met by many stateless people.
  • Stateless often people cannot meet the documentation requirements for naturalisation and if a person is registered as “unknown” nationality they cannot benefit from the exemptions permitted to those registered as stateless (i.e. they must present a passport).
  • There is extra vulnerability for victims of human trafficking because of loss of documents to their trafficker and because of their inability to contact countries of origin for new documents.
  • The lack of birth or marriage certificates among some stateless populations can be a barrier to naturalisation.

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

  • Procedural clarity and clear guidance is required to support the accurate identification, registration and recording of statelessness and nationality problems among refugee arrivals
  • Guidance and capacity-building should be issued to asylum determining authorities to enable them to adequately address statelessness-related persecution in international protection procedures, and refer stateless refugees to a procedure to determine their statelessness
  • A statelessness determination procedure and protection regime should be established in law to enable the Netherlands to meet its international obligations under the 1954 Convention and reduce the risk of arbitrary detention
  • A facilitated route to naturalisation should be implemented and barriers to naturalisation removed for stateless persons in the Netherlands 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.