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Mapping Statelessness in the UK


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After FM questioned his will to live following this analysis of the judgment in Sapkota v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2011] EWCA Civ 1320 I volunteered to have a read through the UNHCR and Asylum Aid joint study Mapping Statelessness in the UK. A full copy of the 172 page report, which was published on 22 November, is available here. It covers both the national and international legal framework in some depth, as well as considering the legal and non legal challenges faced by stateless and ‘unreturnable’ persons. A good summary of the report is now available on the JCWI’s website.

UNHCR puts the global figure for those affected by statelessness at 12 million. Other sources suggest it could be as high as 15 million. Evidently it is an under-studied issue and the scale of the problem isn’t known, but the report considers itself as being just the first step towards introducing the issue of statelessness to a much wider audience. As part of this ‘conversation’, the UNHCR aim to publish guidelines soon on “stateless persons” which will specifically address the definition of Article 1(1) of the 1954 Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons. There is also an advocacy effort with the Home Office under way in an attempt to turn the report’s recommendations into a reality, an important step as according to the research the “officially stateless” classification remains almost unused.

Since 2002 when the policy of granting ILR to stateless people was ‘quietly dropped’ there has not been a stateless determination procedure in the UK. Although the numbers affected by statelessness in the UK might not proportionally be that great, the problems that stem from it are grave. The report draws attention to the links between statelessness and destitution, trafficking, fraud and corruption, and associated violations of human rights like access to healthcare. Despite this, until now statelessness simply hasn’t been a priority for anyone.

It would be easy to turn this into a piece just knocking the Home Office (and earlier drafts were just that), but that’s too easy, and doesn’t address the whole problem. The report observes that relatively few of the files considered contained detailed submissions from legal representatives relating to statelessness. Lawyers will probably argue that this is because there aren’t any provisions for this in the rules and so there not much point in taking time over it. However, while relatively few solicitors are making specific representations to the Home Office, they are almost justified in arguing that statelessness isn’t as big an issue as it actually is. The report is critical of the lack of training for staff, but there are just as few training opportunities for lawyers as well. Advocates have just an important a role to play in this debate as the Home Office and NGOs.

It is a real tragedy that these individuals often flee difficult situations only to find the same problems here, only in a new and strange country. This blog has previously covered those that find themselves in legal limbo but the subjects of this study are in a far worse position. In some case, even those that want to leave are unable to do so. As Taus, a participant from Belarus, explains:

I see that according to the law they will not allow me to go out of this country. Give me a travel document and I will leave immediately – you will not see me again. If I am undesirable here then okay but allow me to go out.

My life started in the Soviet gulag and now I have ended up stuck in this gulag.

The report offers 22 final recommendations, some of which are more likely to be taken on board than others but regardless of whether or not the report is taken on board by the authorities it still provides a wealth of useful information on both legislation and individual’s rights. The bibliography also provides direct links to a lot of the UKBA’s own guidance and publications.


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Communicating important legal concepts in an approachable way, this is an essential guide for students, lawyers and non-specialists alike.

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One Response

  1. In Eire a child otherwise born stateless automatically acquires Irish citizenship.

    In Belgium they had a similar statelessness provision to Eire which led to the infamous Zambrano case.

    In the UK a child born stateless has to reside for 5 years before registering as a British citizen.

    In the light of Zambrano, EU states may further restict existing Child registration laws including statelessness provisions.