Mapping Statelessness in the United Kingdom
The research maps the number and profile of stateless persons in the UK and puts a human face on their situation. It also examines the UK’s legal obligations to stateless persons under international law and analyses the impact of current policy and practice. Based on these findings the report makes recommendations for improvement. While the work owes a debt to previous studies, this is the first time that this hidden issue has been subject to such comprehensive quantitative and qualitative research.
The 1954 Convention on the Status of Stateless Persons defines a stateless person as “a person who is not considered as a national by any State under the operation of its law”. In practice many stateless persons are left without legal residence, consular protection, or the right to return to their country of origin. No Government takes responsibility for their protection. For those who have fallen through the cracks in this way, the consequences are serious.
The UK is one of a select group of 37 States that have ratified both the 1954 Convention and the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness. The 1954 Convention aims to regulate the status of stateless persons and to ensure the widest possible enjoyment of their human rights, and is complemented by the relevant provisions of international human rights treaties.
The 1961 Convention’s purpose is to prevent statelessness, thereby reducing it over time. Although the Universal Declaration of Human Rights confirms that everyone has a right to a nationality, it does not set out a specific nationality to which a person is entitled. Responsibility for conferring nationality lies with individual States, and the UK has criteria in domestic law for the conferral and withdrawal of nationality. Against this background, the 1961 Convention sets out additional standards that States have agreed to ensure further international cooperation and agreement to prevent and reduce statelessness.
The UK was one of the first States to ratify and implement the 1961 Convention. This research finds that the UK generally complies with its obligations in this area, although there are specific areas where improvements in British nationality law could be made.
Despite the UK’s obligations under the 1954 Convention and international human rights law, UNHCR and Asylum Aid found that stateless persons without leave to remain in the UK often go unidentified and those without leave to remain often live at risk of human rights infringements. The researchers interviewed stateless persons who had been destitute for months, had been detained by immigration authorities in spite of evidence that showed there was no prospect of return, or had been separated for years from their families abroad. Some had been forced to sleep on the streets. Some had seen their accommodation and support repeatedly cancelled and reinstated. Almost all of this group were prohibited from working.
Few were in a position to break this cycle. In the absence of a dedicated and accessible procedure to identify people who are stateless, they are left in legal limbo for years.
The available data indicates that the number of stateless persons stuck in such limbo in the UK is relatively small, but appears to increase at between 50-100 persons annually. In the absence of an accessible procedure that identifies stateless persons, however, as well as problems with the reliability of published statistics on statelessness and other data, it is possible that this estimate is at the bottom end of the scale.
Nonetheless, the research found that difficulties faced by stateless persons are deeply entrenched and need to be addressed.