Europe: Campaigners demand protection for the stateless


More than 50 civil society organisations have joined a campaign to secure rights for stateless people in the year of the 60th anniversary of the 1954 UN Statelessness Convention.

The European Network on Statelessness (ENS) – a network of non-governmental organisations, academic initiatives, and individual experts – has launched an online petition calling for governments to provide adequate safeguards for more than 600,000 people living in Europe without any official nationality.

According to ENS, despite ratifying the convention many countries are still failing to provide adequate safeguards for stateless persons.

Chris Nash, Coordinator of ENS, told Equal Times that stateless persons often suffer human rights abuses and are extremely vulnerable to exploitation.

“Research has shown is that where states lack a stateless determination procedure, to identify stateless persons and regularise them, these individuals often end up in limbo.

“They are at risk of various human rights abuses including long term detention, destitution and other human rights violations but critically they lack the right to work and to support themselves which means either they can’t work at all or they’re forced to work illegally.”

ENS is working to highlight the plight of stateless individuals who have experienced these abuses first hand.


“I am not a criminal”

25-year old Rashid was born in Maungdaw, Myanmar, but fled to Bangladesh with his mother in 1992 after his father, a Muslim rights activist, was killed.

He lived in Bangladesh for 20 years, first in a refugee camp and then in several villages.

Last year Rashid travelled to the Netherlands to seek sanctuary but his applications for asylum have been unsuccessful. His difficulties stem in part from the fact that as a member of the Rohingya ethnic group the government deprived him of Myanmar nationality and he has never owned a valid identity document.

Rashid currently lives in a homeless shelter but as an illegal immigrant could be asked to move out any time.

“I cannot go anywhere. I cannot go back to Bangladesh because I only had a temporary legal stay in a refugee camp. I cannot go back to Myanmar because my nationality has been withdrawn,” he said.

“I am asking for help in the Netherlands and as a result I am being kept in detention with criminals. I have not done anything wrong, I am not a criminal.”

The Netherlands is one of a majority of EU countries which has ratified the 1954 UN Statelessness Convention. However, Estonia, Cyprus, Malta and Poland are yet to ratify the convention rendering stateless people living within their borders particularly vulnerable.

In 2011, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and Asylum Aid (both of which are members of ENS) published a report on statelessness in the UK which concluded: “The absence of any robust procedure to identify and help people in this situation…means that stateless people are falling through cracks in government policy and are not receiving the support they desperately need.”

Last year the UK became one of the first European countries to introduce a stateless determination procedure whereby migrants can apply to be formally recognised as stateless persons and legally remain in the country – a lead which Nash hopes other states will soon follow.

“Most European states have taken the first step of ratifying the convention but the problem is they haven’t taken the second step which is to implement this international obligation by introducing a stateless determination procedure to identify stateless people on their territory and then give them a residence permit so they can rebuild their lives.

“We need far more European states to follow the UK’s example.”


There will be a day of action against statelessness across Europe on 14 October 2014, the birthday of the political philosopher Hannah Arendt. For more information, visit