Senior Research Fellow, International Law Programme

Amanda Gray, Urban Displacement Policy Adviser, International Rescue Committee UK

This briefing provides an overview of how international law treats situations of statelessness, both in guarding against statelessness and in protecting the rights of stateless persons.

Unregistered stateless Rohingya refugees from Myanmar at an unofficial camp in Bangladesh. Photo: UNHCR /S. Kritsanavarin / November 2008.Unregistered stateless Rohingya refugees from Myanmar at an unofficial camp in Bangladesh. Photo: UNHCR / S. Kritsanavarin.
  • The UN estimates that at least 10 million people are stateless, including communities excluded from citizenship for generations.
  • Lacking a formal status, stateless persons are among the most vulnerable and marginalized.
  • Protracted disputes over the citizenship status of communities can lead to conflict and refugee movements.
  • Despite relatively low levels of participation, the UN treaties concerning statelessness continue to play a significant role.
  • International human rights law adds to the protection of stateless persons and to the safeguards against statelessness, but the law is not being sufficiently observed. Further efforts to improve understanding and compliance with the existing legal framework are necessary, not new legal standards.
  • In the UK, controversy has arisen over new powers to strip British citizens of their nationality even where this risks statelessness.