Nationality, citizenship & statelessness

A person without travel or identity documents is not on the face of it a stateless person, although this may later turn out to be the case.  A stateless person is "a person who is not considered as a national by any State under the operation of its law" (Article 1, UN Convention on the Status of Stateless Persons, ad 28.9.54, in force 6.6.60).   De jure statelessness is strictly defined in a narrow and legal manner. 

The following factors can make it more difficult to prove identity and nationality to the satisfaction of an embassy or high commission in order to obtain travel documents, and may arguably leave a person de facto stateless.

  • Where a person is of mixed national parentage (e.g. Ghanaian and Nigerian, Ethiopian and Eritrean)
  • Where a person has moved between two countries during their childhood.
  • Dual citizenship or where nationality has been revoked or renounced.
  • Lack of diplomatic ties between the UK and their country of origin
  • Unwillingness or inability of an embassy or high commission to recognise or re-document their nationals

Statelessness is beyond the scope of the Travel Document Project, but for more information on statelessness see:

UNHCR  'Guidelines on the Article 1 (1) definition of statelessness' and  related 'Procedures for Determining whether an Individual is a Stateless Person

The  European Network on Statelessness (ENS) website contains useful resources on statelessness.

An Asylum Aid 'Briefing Note on the 'Introduction of a UK Stateless Determination Procedure effective from 6 April 2013' provides relevant background on statelessness in the UK, and information on the new procedure and how to access further advice and resources. 

Hugh Massey, (2010), 'UNHCR and De Facto Statelessness' , UNHCR Legal and Protection Policy Research Series. A background paper prepared for an expert meeting organised by the UNHCR on the Concept of Stateless Persons in International Law.

Helpline for detainees

Tel: 020 7456 9750
Fax: 020 3745 5226

Helpline open Monday to Thursday between 10am and 12 midday


020 7456 9762 (Monday to Friday)
Please note, it is not possible to get information or advice via this number.

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