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Diplomacy in Action

Statelessness


Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration
September 16, 2010

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Statelessness

The aftermath of World War II and the reconfiguration of nation states created a surge of stateless populations, which led the drafters of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights to include Article 15, which states that “everyone has the right to a nationality” and should not be deprived arbitrarily of his or her nationality. Statelessness exists in every region of the world, but remains a largely “hidden” problem without government recognition.

What does it mean to be stateless?

A stateless person is someone who, under national laws, does not enjoy citizenship – the legal bond between a government and an individual – in any country. While some people are de jure or legally stateless persons (meaning they are not recognized as citizens under the laws of any state), many people are de facto or effectively stateless persons (meaning they are not recognized as citizens by any state even if they have a claim to citizenship under the laws of one of more states.)

How many stateless people are there throughout the world?

At the end of 2009, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (the agency mandated to prevent and reduce statelessness) counted over 6.5 million stateless persons, but estimated that the actual number of stateless persons worldwide may be as high as 12 million.

What are the causes of statelessness?

The following are some common causes of statelessness:
· Failure of hospitals and other places of birth to register newborns properly
· Lack of financial ability to cover the cost of registration and birth certificates
· Customs and traditional attitudes about birth registration
· Birth to stateless parents
· Political change and transfer of territory, which may alter the nationality status of citizens of the former state(s)
· Administrative oversights, procedural problems, conflicts of law between two countries, or destruction of official records
· Alteration of nationality during marriage or the dissolution of marriage between couples from different countries
· Targeted discrimination against minorities
· Laws restricting acquisition of citizenship
· Laws restricting the rights of women to pass on their nationality to their children
· Laws relating to children born out of wedlock and during transit
· Loss or relinquishment of nationality without first acquiring another

What are the consequences that stateless people encounter?

Without citizenship, stateless people have no legal protection and no right to vote, and they often lack access to education, employment, health care, registration of birth, marriage or death, and property rights. Stateless people may also encounter travel restrictions, social exclusion, and heightened vulnerability to sexual and physical violence, exploitation, trafficking in persons, forcible displacement, and other abuses.

How can statelessness be prevented or mitigated?

Key efforts to prevent and reduce statelessness include:
· Creating awareness of statelessness and identifying stateless populations
· Universal birth registration and other forms of civil documentation
· Increasing access to naturalization or citizenship by:
o Eliminating discrimination in nationality laws
o Building administrative capacity for civil registry

sdfsdfAre there international agreements on statelessness?

International legal instruments related to statelessness include:
· 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 15
· 1954 Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons
· 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness
· 1997 European Convention on Nationality



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