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Searching for Citizenship

Nationality is a legal bond between a state and an individual, and statelessness refers to the condition of an individual who is not considered as a national by any state. Although stateless people may sometimes also be refugees, the two categories are distinct and both groups are of concern to UNHCR. 

Statelessness occurs for a variety of reasons including discrimination against minority groups in nationality legislation, failure to include all residents in the body of citizens when a state becomes independent (state succession) and conflicts of laws between states.

Statelessness is a massive problem that affects an estimated 12 million people worldwide. Statelessness also has a terrible impact on the lives of individuals. Possession of nationality is essential for full participation in society and a prerequisite for the enjoyment of the full range of human rights.

While human rights are generally to be enjoyed by everyone, selected rights such as the right to vote may be limited to nationals. Of even greater concern is that many more rights of stateless people are violated in practice - they are often unable to obtain identity documents; they may be detained because they are stateless; and they could be denied access to education and health services or blocked from obtaining employment.

Given the seriousness of the problem, the UN in 1954 adopted the Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons.

Yet the problem can be prevented through adequate nationality legislation and procedures as well as universal birth registration. UNHCR has been given a mandate to work with governments to prevent statelessness from occurring, to resolve those cases that do occur and to protect the rights of stateless persons. A first step is for states to ratify and implement the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness.