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What is a Stateless Person?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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A stateless person is a person who does not have nationality or citizenship. There are a number of ways in which someone can become a stateless a person, but this condition is most common among refugees. Since 1954, when the United Nations held a conference to address this issue, the position of stateless persons has been greatly clarified, and many nations attempt to prevent people from becoming stateless.

One of the classic ways for someone to become a stateless person is the collapse of a national government. If the government is not replaced, former citizens may become stateless because they do not have official residency anywhere. Ethnic, religious, and cultural minorities who are denied citizenship may also be stateless. On a day to day basis, this may not be an issue, but as soon as these individuals travel, their stateless status will become a problem.

It is possible to become a stateless person by voluntarily renouncing citizenship, but this is rare, because consulates will usually not allow a person to renounce his or her citizenship without providing proof of citizenship somewhere else. This citizenship status may also occur when someone renounces citizenship without realizing that his or her citizenship in another nation has expired or not been validated. Both of these cases are increasingly rare, thanks to efforts to reduce the numbers of stateless persons worldwide.

Citizens can also be expelled by their governments, in which case they may become stateless as a result. People who are expelled can usually apply for refugee status on the strength of their expulsion, and some nations provide programs which are designed to help refugees attain citizenship quickly, especially if they are stateless. A stateless person may also be given special travel documents which allow him or her to pass through immigration to reach an end destination, as for instance in the case of a stateless person trapped in England who has been given refugee status in the Netherlands.

Stateless people face a number of problems. They are not entitled to the protections and benefits provided to citizens, for example, and they also usually cannot travel internationally. In some famous instances, stateless persons have been shuffled from place to place as they are repeatedly refused entry by immigration authorities. Many of them are the victims of violence or persecution, and their stateless status makes it difficult for them to seek assistance or find advocates.

PublicPeople is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a PublicPeople researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments
By anon999492 — On Jan 16, 2018

Someone could be a stateless person if their consulate just can't find evidence of a passport issued? I married a Russian guy who called himself stateless for that reason (born in the Georgian SSR before the fall of the Soviet Union and the Russian Embassy could never find records of his Russian passport, not in the US, not in Canada, not in the UK.)

By anon983656 — On Jan 01, 2015

@anon961945 (post 7) --Can you do a search on stateless children of British nationals?

There might be provisions for your case (citizenship by descent but did not fulfill residence requirements) but children has no other pathways to gain any other citizenship.

I don't know enough to help you in any way, but some organizations you might find in that search might.

By anon961945 — On Jul 21, 2014

I am a British citizen although my mother was born in Germany. I just had a child in the Dominican Republic and she has no right to be Dominican as I don't have any Dominican papers. In Britain, they have refused to give her a British passport and my daughter is now stateless. Any idea what I should do next? Is there a way out? Would this mean that my child would be forever stateless?

By anon955483 — On Jun 07, 2014

I am a stateless person who lives in Turkey. Actually, my parents were born in Greece then they just decided to move to Turkey.

After two years, Greece refused to their citizenships and Turkey does want to accept us as a citizens. Actually this story is longer. But I want to say I had no chance to choose something.

I applied for a Turkish passport five years ago and had it. I came to the USA and traveled there. I saw how people lives overseas and I wanted to apply for US citizenship. But I never tried to apply. I'm still in Turkey and I'm originally Turkish and Greece still denies me citizenship. Also, I have no religious beliefs and I don't want to apply for Turkish citizenship.

So I want to ask that to all you people: Am I an alien in this world? Is this fair?

I am 27 years old and I have never had a ticket. I never tried to be a bad person. I've been always kind to people. I graduated from a university. I've helped people my whole life. I stayed away from any trouble. I love nature, animals, people, anything. I just want to ask you people do I come from another earth? I don't want money or something, just the answer.

By anon339016 — On Jun 19, 2013

Why do I need to be a part of a country to have human rights?

Am I no longer human without being claimed by government masters?

This is malarkey. We're slaves and we always have to be owned by a plantation.

By anon127581 — On Nov 16, 2010

to anon108542: If the child has at least one parent who was born british to British parents (child's grandparents) the child has a right to british citizenship and passport.

What happens when a mother is british by naturalisation, father is american but the child is born in Italy where they have a stupid rule that says to be Italian, one of the parents must be Italian?

By anon127372 — On Nov 16, 2010

My date of birth is in 1978, and I am working as a software engineer. My father is British Overseas Citizen, and has PR status in Singapore.

I am by nationality Indian, but am planning to apply for British registration and passport for myself since I am the son of a British subject.

By anon118433 — On Oct 14, 2010

Even if they are not married, the father could recognize baby as his child and the baby should be registered as a British citizen by its origin (at least, according to continental law systems; not sure about UK).

Similar to refugee status or internally displaced persons, I believe that children can get "right of abode" because of their parents' status.

I think that, since last year, the law allows children who have the right of abode through their mothers to register as British by descent?

I don`t know about law system in UK, but in continental law systems, it is possible to find solution(s) for this example (more logical than the one I've mentioned above).

Anyhow, there are much worse and more complicated situations than this one. But it is an interesting idea- illegal immigrant from mother's belly.

And if we imagine it is not possible to resolve the situation, and that baby has to leave the country, then what? The child will have same status like its mother in this case. She can't be deported, so neither can the baby (if I am not wrong about that "right of abode" institute).

Working time over. I will think about "which country" tomorrow.

By anon108542 — On Sep 03, 2010

On the subject of statelessness.

A child born in Britain in 2006 whose father was born British and who's mother was not British but had right of abode in Britain and the couple were not married.

In this instance the newborn child would be stateless and about three months would be given to resolve the situation, or the baby would be an illegal immigrant and would have to leave the country.

Could anyone tell me which country the baby would likely be sent to under immigration law?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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