The humanitarian and compassionate assessment: Statelessness

This section contains policy, procedures and guidance used by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada staff. It is posted on the Department’s website as a courtesy to stakeholders.

As per the 1954 Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, a stateless person is a person who is not considered to be a national of any state under the operation of its law. To be stateless is to be without nationality or citizenship.

Stateless persons include the de jure stateless and the de facto stateless. De jure statelessness refers to a person who is not considered a national by any state under the operation of its law. That is, no state recognizes the person as its own national. De facto statelessness refers to a person with an ineffective nationality or who cannot establish their nationality. In such cases, a person still holds a nationality, but they do not receive any of the benefits generally associated with nationality.

Causes of Statelessness

Statelessness may be caused by one or more of the following factors:

  • contradictions between states’ citizenship laws,
  • discrimination,
  • changing borders,
  • inheritance of statelessness,
  • administrative barriers, or
  • renunciation of nationality.

Contradiction in laws: If nationality laws prevent parents from passing along citizenship to a child born in a foreign country, this may result in the child being stateless if the foreign country does not permit nationality based on birth in the territory alone.

Discrimination: Some countries have discriminatory nationality laws that limit citizenship to people of certain races and ethnicities. In such cases entire populations living in a country may be denied citizenship. In some countries discriminatory laws prevent women from passing along their citizenship to their children, putting children at a heightened risk of statelessness.

Changing borders: The dissolution of states, such as the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, may result in citizens of the former state losing their nationality, while nationality laws of successor states may leave certain members of the population without any nationality.

Inheritance of statelessness: Situations of statelessness often last for generations because of the problem of statelessness being passed from one generation to the next, both in countries where nationality is only acquired by descent from a national, as well as in non-state territories, such as the Palestinian territories.

Administrative barriers: The failure of hospitals or other places of birth to register newborns properly, or the lack of financial ability to cover the cost of registration and birth certificates, contributes to the problem of statelessness. Without proof of place or date of birth, or of parentage, states may dispute these facts and fail to consider a person as a national.

Renunciation of nationality: In certain situations, individuals may renounce their citizenship, which may result in statelessness if the nationality laws of the state do not require its citizens to first acquire another nationality before renouncing citizenship.

Establishing proof of statelessness

While there are obvious challenges in obtaining proof (i.e., no nationality), the following are examples of documentation that may help to demonstrate that the applicant is stateless:

  • Documents from a relevant state authority (e.g., the country of origin or country of former habitual residence) certifying that the individual concerned is not a national.
  • Evidence of correspondence with the relevant authorities of the country of origin or country of former habitual residence indicating their refusal to issue certified documents attesting that the person is a national.
  • If a state refuses to confirm that a person is its national, the refusal, in itself, is a form of evidence, as countries normally would extend diplomatic protection to their citizens. If documentation from the country of origin is unavailable, some other elements of proof may be sufficient, such as reviews of relevant nationality laws and declarations made by witnesses and other third parties, including the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
  • Indication from the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) that they are unable to obtain travel documents for the applicant from the applicant’s country of origin or country of habitual residence. Officers may contact the CBSA removals unit for information on why the applicant does not have a travel document, if and how they have cooperated with the Government of Canada with regard to obtaining travel documents, or if they intentionally lost or destroyed travel documents.
  • Any other relevant documentation that can support the applicant’s claim of being stateless.
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