Addressing statelessness under the EU’s Asylum & Migration Pact

Guest blog by: Chris Nash, Director, European Network on Statelessness 

Please be aware that this article is a guest contribution and does not necessarily reflect the view of Tineke Strik or GroenLinks.

The European Network on Statelessness is a civil society alliance of over 170 members in 41 countries committed to ending statelessness and ensuring that the rights of people living in Europe without a nationality are protected.

Earlier this year, the European Network on Statelessness published its detailed analysis of the EU Pact on Asylum and Migration. Since then we have held multiple meetings with MEPs, European Commission officials and Member State representatives in order to highlight our key recommendations.

Our commentary, released in January, focuses on the impact the proposals set out by the European Commission would have on the fundamental rights of stateless migrants and refugees and makes concrete recommendations for a way forward. To say that many of the Pact proposals are controversial would be stating the obvious, and we stand in solidarity with our sister networks in seeking to hold the EU to account on its obligations in this area. As we outline, statelessness must be integral to the Pact negotiations and wider CEAS reform.

Why is statelessness so relevant to Europe’s refugee response?

We know from our work with our members and partners that whether someone is stateless impacts on their migration journey in innumerable ways. And yet, the Pact makes no mention of the rights of stateless people, nor does it provide any clarity on how to respond to the specific protection challenges faced by stateless refugees and migrants. The existing EU asylum and migration acquis contains no reference to the rights due to stateless people under international law, so perhaps we should not have been surprised by the Pact’s blind spot in this area, despite previous dedicated European Council Conclusions on Statelessness.

While the causes and consequences of statelessness may be complex, the law and policy solutions are simple and achievable. Stateless refugees and migrants in Europe need recognition, rights, and routes to resolving their statelessness. What they face currently is invisibility and prolonged irregularity. It is now time to put the issue of statelessness firmly on the EU’s asylum and migration agenda and the Pact provides a key opportunity to do so.

We know that over 3% of asylum applicants to the EU are registered as stateless or ‘of unknown nationality’. However, the true figure is likely much higher given the lack of tools to identify and record statelessness at Europe’s borders. There is no mechanism to register statelessness on arrival so stateless refugees and migrants are often wrongly ‘assigned’ a nationality by officials based on their country of origin or the languages they speak. Many more people from countries where discriminatory laws, state succession, nationality stripping, or protracted displacement  - meaning they have lost or never acquired a nationality - are invisible in the statistics. We know of people from Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, and the former Soviet Union, among many others, who have struggled for years to have their statelessness recognised by authorities in Europe. Whether someone is stateless not only impacts on asylum decision-making, but also on the nationality rights of their children, as well as on access to related procedures like family reunification or resettlement, not to mention inclusion or the possibility of return.

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Photo: Syrian Kurdish refugees take ferry to Athens; © UNHCR/Andrew McConnell


Growing momentum but now is the time for action

Over the last five years, we have been working with our members to call out the invisibility of statelessness in the EU’s response to migration and refugees. Thanks to research, campaigns, and sympathetic MEPs, practitioners, and migrant and refugee communities, many of you among them, awareness has undoubtedly grown. Stateless people have been heard in the European Parliament, the Council has adopted Conclusions on Statelessness, the European Migration Network has established a Statelessness Platform, parliamentarians have championed the issue, and key EU agencies such as FRA, EASO, and Frontex have integrated statelessness into aspects of their work.

Nevertheless,EU legislation is still silent on stateless migrants and refugees, and they are still largely invisible in the debates that affect their lives. We recognise how difficult it is to change EU law and policy, as evidenced by current slow and difficult progress on the Pact package as a whole, but the impact of doing nothing on statelessness has been laid bare by a growing movement for change. The EU’s reluctance to legislate on this issue is now untenable. Now is the time for change and we are ready to work with the EU - and all stakeholders - to change this.