In brief. . .

  • Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) enshrines that "everyone has the right to a nationality".
  • More than 12 million people are in the legal loop-hole where they have no legal status with any state (UNHCR). 
  • Lack of birth registration, ethnic discrimation when a state becomes independent, gaps or conflicts in laws between states, arbitary deprivation of nationality cause statelessness.
  • Only 65 governments in the world record information on statelessness (Global Trends 2011) so it remains a massive, but hidden problem.
  • There are pervasive and profound occupational impcations for affected individuals (poverty, exclusion from education, vulnerability to forced labour, no freedom of movement, arbitary arrest sketched here by Open Society Justice Initiative, 2012)

Occupational implications. . .

Stateless people are denied political, social, cultural, civic human rights with profound occupational consequences. Every day occupations like using a bank account, getting a job, getting married, being a registered professional or trade are denied, dangerous, depend on bribery, and are exceedingly difficult whilst people effectively "don't exist" in the eyes of any state law. Hannah Arendt decribes being stateless (read more here): 

“We lost our home, which means the familiarity of daily life. We lost our occupation, which means the confidence that we are of some use in the world. We lost our language, which means the naturalness of reactions, the simplicity of gestures, the unaffected expression of our feelings. We left our relatives in the Polish ghettos and our best friends have been killed in concentration camps, and that means the rupture of our private lives.”  

Losing a place in the world, people lose their roles in society, their ability to participate in speech and politics because they no longer have the ‘right to have rights’ in that place. With the loss citizenship, one becomes a “human being in general” without home, occupation, right and means to impact the world through speech and action.

No Person is Illegal

No person is illegal, photo thanks to MiguelB

Statelessness clearly results in occupational injustice, and occupational therapists need to join the action and advocacy that states prevent and resolve statelessness so all people can participate as humans and citizens.

UN Treaties. . .

The UN's Stateless Persons Convention (1954) and the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessnes (1961) are much less known about than the sister UN Refugee Convention (1951). However the intractable legal and occupational implications resulting form statelessness are profound and worthy of wider attention.


The 1954 Statelessness Convention requires states ensure that stateless persons:

  • Have the same rights as citizens in relation to freedom of religion, intellectual property, access to courts and legal assistance, rationing, access to primary education, public relief, labour rights and social security.
  • Treatment which is as favourable as possible and at least as favourable as that accorded to foreign nationals, in relation to the acquisition of property, freedom of association, access to employment, self-employment, housing and access to secondary and tertiary education.
  • Treatment which is at least as favourable as that accorded to foreign nationals in relation to freedom of movement.

The 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness requires states ensure that:


  • Prevent statelessness of children by granting nationality if they would otherwise be stateless
  • Prevent statlessness by recquiring people to have nother nationality before renuniciation of original nationality
  • Prevent statelessness by prohibiting deprivation of nationality on racial, ethnic, religious, or political grounds
  • Prevent statelessness by provision fot those who could be made stateless by transfer or succession of states

Learn more. . .

European Network on Statelessness

Refworld's Special Issue on Statelessness

Stateless Persons Convention (1954) & Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness (1961)

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