Protect citizens from statelessness: What Canada, US, and 10 EU countries can do

Written by Thomas Huddleston, MIPEX Research Coordinator, Co-author and Policy Analyst, Migration Policy Group

This week, UNHCR launched a global campaign to end statelessness. MIPEX finds that several EU countries, Canada, and the US could do more to legally protect their citizens.

UNHCR campaign: end statelessness

This week, UNHCR launched a global campaign stating that everyone should have a nationality as a fundamental right. However, some 12 million people across the world are stateless. Nearly half a million live in one of the 31 MIPEX countries, according to UNHCR 2010 estimates.**

“These people are in desperate need of help because they live in a nightmarish legal limbo” Antonio Guterres of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

50 years  after the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, only 38 of UN’s 193 Member States are party to the treaty. Just 66 are party to the 1954 Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons.

Ratify the treaties, implement new laws

UNHCR’s main target is for more States to sign up to the treaties by a UN ministerial-level meeting in December 2011.

Among the MIPEX countries, 6 (Bulgaria, Cyprus, Estonia, Malta, Poland, and US) have yet to ratify either treaty. Both treaties were ratified by only 9 (Austria, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Latvia, Romania, and Slovakia). The other 16 ratified one, but not the other.

UNHCR’s campaign goes beyond formal ratification and calls for states to implement the treaties by reforming their nationality laws and reducing their number of statelessness down to zero. This call to action goes out to governments, advocates, media, and the public.

Reform laws on citizenship acquisition and loss

Statelessness grows every year, even in countries party to the treaties.

Babies are born stateless. On citizenship acquisition, the EUDO-Citizenship Website tracks whether European countries facilitate citizenship for stateless persons and for children born there who would otherwise be stateless.

People also lose their nationality on many grounds and a few actually become stateless. For example, this happened to 93 Lithuanian citizens and 8 Danish citizens in 2009, according to Eurostat. Worryingly, these statistics are missing for most Member States.

One small step that governments can do is protect their own citizens from becoming statelessness. Article 8 of the 1961 Convention guarantees that persons shall not be deprived of their nationality if such deprivation would render them stateless, while the Article allows for some exceptions.

MIPEX finds that citizens in at least 10 EU countries, Canada, and the US need stronger protections against statelessness (in black):

Change is possible. In just three years, MIPEX captured policy improvements in Hungary and Luxembourg.

  • In Hungary, UNHCR and humanitarian organisations like the Hungarian Helsinki Committee spent years lobbying the government to ratify the 1961 Convention and then prohibit citizenship withdrawal except in limited cases of fraud with Law 15/2009. Their main argument was that integration is one of the few durable solutions for stateless people.
  • In Luxembourg, NGO and government debate eventually led to the 23 October 2008 Nationality Law reduced the numerous grounds for losing citizenship from eight to three. Article 15 provides that citizenship can only be withdrawn by reasoned ministerial order if a person would not become stateless.


UNHCR 2010 estimates of stateless persons in the 31 MIPEX countries

**1) Latvia 326,906 2) Estonia 100,983 3) Sweden 9,344 4) Germany 7,920 5) Slovenia 4,090 6) Lithuania 3,674 7) Denmark 3,216 8 ) Finland 3,125 9) Norway 3,118 10) Netherlands 2,061 11) France 1,131 12) Slovakia 911 13) Italy 854 14) Poland 763 15) Belgium 691 16) Austria 401 17) Romania 321 18) Greece 260 19) United Kingdom 205 20) Luxembourg 173 21) Hungary 62 22) Switzerland 62 23) Portugal 31 24) Spain 31

Data missing: BG, CA, CY, CZ, IE, MT