Mariam (25) has two daughters who were born in Lebanon. Their names are Fatmeh, four years old, and Rana, two years old. They have birth certificates but have not fully registered their births. Mariam has been in Lebanon for four years, and her husband is unemployed. She doesn’t know what happened to her home in Syria. Most of the people she knew in Syria are either dead or have been displaced. Her priority right now is to register the birth of her children.

NRC/Felipe Jacome
Read caption Photo: NRC/Felipe Jacome

Fleeing your home, living stateless

NRC and Tilburg University|Published 18. May 2015
In Lebanon where over one million Syrian refugees have escaped the conflict, it is estimated that 36,000 children born to Syrian parents are at risk of becoming stateless.

Their births have not been registered and as such they may face difficulties in proving their nationality. They are at risk of becoming stateless, adding another layer of vulnerability to the already precarious lives they have entered into.

Unfortunately, these children are not alone. There are currently an estimated 1.5 million refugees around the world who are stateless – without any nationality – and many more who are at risk of becoming stateless. They have fled their homes and no country sees them as a national, prompting urgent questions about their unique protection needs.

There are many reasons why children born in displacement are finding themselves unable to claim their right to a nationality. These vary from discriminatory nationality laws that prevent women from transmitting their nationality to their children, to problems with registering new births or marriages in a foreign land.

Why is statelessness a problem?

Being stateless increases people’s vulnerability in displacement, posing additional challenges to meet humanitarian needs. Statelessness could lead, for example, to an increased risk of being detained and greater restrictions on freedom of movement. It can also mean difficulties in accessing education and livelihoods, as well as financial aid or humanitarian assistance which requires documentation. Stateless persons can be prevented seeking refuge in other countries or from returning to their country of origin.

What can be done?

The conventional humanitarian response may not recognise, understand and cater to the situation stateless people find themselves in. Recognising the strong link between statelessness and displacement needs to be followed with understanding how being stateless might affect the needs of displaced populations, and designing programmes accordingly. It is particularly important for the humanitarian community to understand the potential for statelessness among displaced populations and to be able to identify and assist those most at risk. At a minimum, measures to prevent new cases of statelessness should be incorporated into humanitarian responses. The humanitarian community should also make efforts to identify stateless persons in displacement, enhance their protection and assist them to find lasting solutions.

A scoping paper by the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) and Tilburg University discusses the links between statelessness and forced displacement. The report highlights how protecting the current and future status of displaced families must come hand in hand with the assurance that they retain their right to a nationality, endeavouring to remove the risk of statelessness as a consequence of displacement.

NRC contributes to the prevention of new cases of statelessness through their information, counselling and legal assistance (ICLA) programmes on civil documentation. These include practical steps such as assistance for parents of Syrian refugee newborns to register their birth, and support for obtaining national identity documents in Côte d’Ivoire and South Sudan.