The Stateless Person


Most of us go through our lives always in recognition and being recognized as citizens or residents of a particular sovereign nation.  That recognition and membership by and into a country is taken for granted.  However there are also among us by recent UN reports approximately 10 million stateless persons.

What is a stateless person?

A “stateless person” is someone who is not considered as a national by any state under the operation of its law (article 1 of the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons). Here, nationality refers to the legal bond between a person and a state. This bond can best be seen as a form of official membership which confers upon the national certain rights (like the right to live in the country or participate in elections) as well as duties (like the duty of military service, where this is still in place). A person who is stateless lacks this membership and will be seen and treated as a foreigner by every country in the world. This phenomenon has also been described as “de jure statelessness” (


UNHCR guidelines of 2012 on the definition of a stateless person):

– For a person to be “stateless” it is not relevant how the person came to be without a nationality or whether there is the possibility for the person to acquire a nationality by taking some kind of action: the only thing that matters is whether, at the present moment, the person is considered as a national by any state.

– For a person to be “stateless” it is not relevant where he or she is located. Statelessness occurs in both migration and non-migration contexts. A stateless person may never have crossed an international border, having lived in the same country for his or her entire life.

– To determine whether a person is considered as a national by a state under the operation of its law, requires a careful analysis of how a state applies its nationality laws in practice, in that individual’s case. In some cases, an objective analysis of the law would lead to the conclusion that the person is a national, but the state may not in practice follow the letter of the law, so the analysis must be based on how the competent authorities interpret the law.

– To determine that a person is not considered as a national by any state does not require proving the lack of recognition as a national by all of the world’s states. Nationality is almost always granted based on certain factual links between a person and a state: either links through family or through territory. To work out whether a person is stateless, it is usually sufficient to look at whether they have the nationality of any of the places with which they have such links, i.e. country of birth, country of nationality of parents, country of habitual residence and country of nationality of spouse.

There are certain obvious realities that result from the lack of designated nationality.  Indeed we can find fundamental human rights are abridged and more often violated without regard.   Consider that failure of nationality excludes persons from education, employment, social welfare benefits, ownership of property (real and personal), marriage (under sanctioned licensing of sovereign authority), failure to participate in government or election, and clear exposure to other arguable indirect results human rights violations such as human trafficking.

Several countries and Regional political authorities such as the UN and the EU have and continue to place emphasis in the regulatory and enforcement arena to mitigate the increasing stateless person population.  However, more keen interest is necessary to insure that application of these regulations are infact advocated and implemented.  Often there is occasion to recognize and confront the inequity placed on some of our fellow humans through credentialed and recognized legal systems.  To be aware of this injustice and failure to act to remedy it simply continues to allow for the indignity of our human race as a whole.


Take for example that a woman in Kuwait who marries a non-Kuwait may not under Kuwait law convey Kuwait citizenship.  This absurdity crosses the grain of every civilized nations well founded legal and moral standard of family unification – that as a matter of policy in enacted into the migration laws of most modern nations.   Please note critically, that this prohibition does not apply to Kuwait men that marry non-Kuwaiti.

There are several other more drastic positions taken by sovereign nations with respect to denying nationality to indigenous member of their respective populations.  This often results from political,  religious and cultural heritage identities.

We must work towards a eradication of the “stateless” condition, simply because the impact is horrifically adverse to the human dignity and fundamentals to human rights.


About the Author

Shaan Shahrukh DHANJI

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