FAQ on statelessness

Statelessness is a topic that suffers low awareness as well as many misconceptions. This section is meant to clarify some of the common ones, covering a number of questions that stateless people hear in respect to statelessness. Click on the question to see the answer.

No, the two are quite different. Only some refugees are stateless. The majority of refugees are able to retain and prove their nationality. Refugees are those people who had to flee their country because of safety concerns, while most stateless people are minorities in their own homeland, usually where they were born and continue to permanently reside.

Yes, there are over ten million stateless people in the world, with some estimates reaching as high as fifteen million. Statelessness is very difficult to accurately account, not least because many states refuse to recognize their own stateless people for fear of accountability.

Although punitive deprivation of nationality is possible and happens in modern times, such as for political dissent, it is far more common for people to become stateless arbitrarily. Most commonly, people become stateless due to how they are minorities in their own country that face hatred, scapegoating, and discrimination from a dominant ethnic group. Racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination are frequent grounds due to which people end up stateless.

No, statelessness can affect any country, race or ethnicity. It knows no borders. Case in point, in Europe there are more than half a million stateless people, most of whom are native Europeans.

What does matter is the difference between jus soli and jus sanguinis principles to nationality. Countries with a jus soli principle for nationality, such as the case for most of the countries in the Americas, tend to avoid statelessness better. Although this is not entirely fool-proof, as has been recently illustrated in the Dominican Republic.

To some extent, yes. However, the work of international organizations like UNHCR on statelessness is very limited and specific, focusing on advocacy and aid in Statelessness Determination Procedures. UNHCR itself recognizes that it is underfunded, understaffed, and under-qualified to handle statelessness. It does not help that there is very low awareness from the general public about the issue. 

Not at all. In fact, stateless people are the most vulnerable people in the world and can often be detained by authorities arbitrarily. Stateless people lack the legal protection that is accorded to those who have nationality. Even basic human rights are not easily accessible to the stateless. It must be kept in mind that, as things stand, human rights are enjoyed not via us being human, but via nationality. Nationality is the right to have rights.

This is something that stateless people tend to hear as a response to their bleak situation. Unfortunately, there is no such citizenship. Some have suggested a concept of a regionally-based citizenship, like that in the EU, can be an answer to some forms of statelessness. However, as it stands today, granting of citizenship and nationality is entirely under jurisdiction of individual states.