Stateless children are particularly vulnerable in society. They often lack access to the most basic rights such as birth registration, education, healthcare, social security and housing. Photo: Unknown. Source: Hippopx.

Development magazine explains

Millions of stateless people in the world - do not get access to basic rights

Roughly ten million people around the world are estimated to be stateless. Sweden has joined several international conventions to prevent statelessness, but despite that there were approximately 27 stateless persons or persons of unknown nationality in Sweden in 000, according to UNHCR. The Council of Europe's former commissioner for human rights has criticized Sweden for giving stateless persons little chance of obtaining citizenship in Sweden. 

Every ten minutes, a stateless child is born somewhere in the world, according to the UN Refugee Agency UNHCR. Being stateless means that the person has no nationality because he is not recognized as a citizen of any country. Statelessness is a man-made problem and often affects minorities, says UNHCR in its report Ending Statelessness Within 10 years. Statelessness can, for example, occur through discrimination against an ethnic or religious group, or because of gender. The exact number of people who are stateless is unknown, however UNHCR estimates that these are over ten million people around the world, approximately one third of whom are children. 

- Being registered is proof that you exist, it is a prerequisite to enter a system, to be called to school, says asylum law lawyer Evin Cetin to Swedens radio.

In Sweden, stateless persons can apply for a residence permit through an application to the Swedish Migration Agency, but there are still stateless persons who live illegally in Sweden or have not been registered for other reasons. In order to be entered in the population register in Sweden, as a rule, the person is required to have a residence permit. This means that stateless persons without a residence permit in Sweden are not registered in the population register. UNHCR estimated that there were approx 27 stateless or persons of unknown nationality in Sweden in 2021.

Several conventions for stateless persons

Sweden has joined several international conventions concerning stateless persons – the UN Convention on the Legal Status of Stateless Persons, which is designed to ensure that stateless people enjoy a minimum of human rights, the UN Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, which aims to prevent and reduce statelessness, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. By signing the conventions, Sweden has promised to respect, protect and fulfill the rules and rights stipulated in the conventions. Stateless children are particularly vulnerable because their status means that they are without legal nationality and they have little opportunity to influence the society in which they live.

In Sweden, it is usually the citizenship of the parents that determines which citizenship a child receives at birth. In order for a child to receive Swedish citizenship at birth, it is required that a parent of the child is a Swedish citizen. Children born in Sweden to stateless parents do not automatically receive Swedish citizenship. A stateless child can become a Swedish citizen after the guardian or guardians make a notification to the Swedish Migration Agency and if the child fulfills The Swedish Migration Agency's requirements

Former commissioner critical of Sweden's handling of stateless persons

National regulations on citizenship for children born within the country's borders differ in European countries. Only half of all European countries have full safeguards in place to prevent children from becoming stateless. In some countries, the law excludes many children because a parent is required to have legal residence in the host country. In other countries, the law requires a fee for applying for citizenship for the child, which prevents many children from obtaining a citizenship, according to Stateless Journeys. In 17 European countries, children born in the country, who would otherwise be stateless, automatically receive citizenship, writes UNHCR.

Nils Muižnieks, former Commissioner for Human Rights in the Council of Europe, has directed criticism at the fact that Sweden gives stateless persons little opportunity to obtain citizenship in Sweden. In a report for the European Network on Statelessness he has urged the Swedish authorities to consider introducing a system for automatically granting citizenship at birth to children who would otherwise be stateless.

- It is probably the best tool for eradicating statelessness at birth and preventing it from being passed on from generation to generation, he says in the report. 

The consequences for children in statelessness

Although statelessness is a widespread problem, the consequences related to statelessness have been overlooked by policy makers. The consequences are that a child who has been born and lived his whole life in a country risks ending up in limbo and living a life of exclusion without rights. In 26 countries around the world, women are not allowed to transfer their nationality to their child, putting the child at risk of becoming stateless if their father is unknown or has passed away.

If a child lacks a nationality, they may find it difficult to access the most basic rights such as birth registration, education, healthcare, social security and housing. As they get older, many struggle with accessing employment and livelihood opportunities, according to European Network on Statelessness. It also becomes more difficult to protect children from abuse and exploitation such as human trafficking, child labor and child marriage if they are stateless, the network believes.

- The stateless are therefore a group that constantly and constantly falls through the cracks. Many are also in a limbo situation where they are not allowed to stay in Sweden, but also cannot be deported because no country is willing to accept them, writes Jehna Al-Moushahidi, founder of The Swedish Organization against Statelessness, the Today's Arena.

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