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Determination of Statelessness in Europe

Funded by the NWO, the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research, this doctoral research project, analysed the serious challenges faced by national administrations and judiciaries in determining who is stateless, and suggests improvements aimed at the effective achievement of international goals of protection.

There are about 12-15 million stateless persons in the world, of which more than half a million in the EU. Whether persecuted or tolerated, acknowledged or ignored, stateless persons live in an anomalous legal environment, and their access to legal protection is impeded.

The UN Convention on the Status of Stateless Persons and other international and national legal instruments grant a number of rights to the stateless, among which the right to identity documents, to travel documents, the right to access courts, facilitated access to naturalisation, and certain economic and social rights. One of the problems with the implementation of these rights is the difficulty of recognising a particular individual as stateless. The international definition of a stateless person is simple, namely 'a person who is not considered as a national by any State under the operation of its law'. However, the legal fact of not being recognised as a national by any state is not easy to establish. Statelessness often occurs in the vacuum between the laws of different states, and is therefore poorly documented.

This comparative interjurisdictional research project compares national procedures for the determination of statelessness in five European states (Spain, the UK, the Netherlands, Russia and Poland). The challenges faced by national legislators, administrations and judiciaries in identifying who is stateless, and the solutions adopted to address these challenges, complement the international discourse on statelessness with a crucial perspective on its implementation. Without an understanding of national procedures for determining who is stateless, international efforts in addressing this problem cannot be effective.


This four-year research project, started in December 2011, has been funded by the NWO, the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research, within its Mozaik-scheme. It was carried out by Katja Swider under the supervision of Professor Leonhard Besselink.