Statelessness is an overlooked and often invisible feature of the forced migration context in Europe. Increasingly, however, actors involved in the refugee response are discovering that some of the men, women and children they work with face nationality problems. Between 2015 and 2017, EU Member States received a total of over 95,000 asylum applications by individuals who were stateless, of unknown nationality or had their citizenship recorded as “Palestine” – combining to make up approximately 3% of all applications. Being both stateless and a refugee can make people more vulnerable within asylum systems and targeted assistance may be required to ensure that they do not suffer discrimination on the basis of their statelessness. Despite this and although the figures demonstrate that the group concerned is significant, the EU has yet to develop a response to identify and address the specific needs of stateless refugees. Moreover, in the national context, only a minority of countries have put in place systems for determining statelessness. Therefore, the European asylum system and the policies and procedures in place in individual countries are not adequately identifying or responding to the situation of stateless people who have found themselves forcibly displaced.
To address this gap, the Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion (ISI) and the European Network on Statelessness (ENS) initiated a joint effort to examine the relationship between statelessness and forced migration in Europe, to build links with individuals and refugee communities affected by statelessness, and to interrogate the knowledge and attitudes of key regional and national stakeholders involved in the response to current forced migration trends. This report forms part of this wider project and makes an important contribution to the evidence base to improve efforts to protect the rights of stateless refugees and prevent new cases of statelessness arising in the forced migration context in Europe, by zooming in on the specific experiences of stateless refugees from Syria (‘stateless Syrians’).
Syria has been the country of origin of the largest number of asylum seekers in the EU every year since 2013. Given the long-standing existence of stateless communities in Syria, it is evident that there are stateless refugees among those displaced by the conflict and ending up in Europe. Against this background, this report explores the treatment of stateless refugees from Syria within the European asylum system, outlining the particular challenges they face and discussing related law and policy gaps. Building on existing research about the situation of stateless refugees and those at risk of statelessness in the neighboring Middle Eastern countries, this study focuses on the ‘Greece corridor’ – the most common route for Syrians coming to Europe – as a framework through which to analyse the experiences of stateless Syrians in the EU. Within this ‘corridor’, the research focuses on two countries – Greece and the Netherlands – where in-depth interviews were conducted with stateless Palestinians and stateless Kurds from Syria who have arrived in Europe within the recent migration flow. Their testimonies help us to better understand the implications of the approach of relevant stakeholders, policies and procedures to the treatment of stateless refugees from Syria.
This report presents a number of common challenges experienced by stateless Syrians seeking asylum in Europe. As the testimonies highlighted demonstrate, one of the most significant problems is that there is limited – if any – understanding of statelessness among the different stakeholders who the participants interviewed have interacted with. There is insufficient knowledge and/or capacity to identify cases of statelessness and tailor support accordingly. Among many of those interviewed in Greece and the Netherlands, this has led to difficulties in accessing appropriate protection and assistance. As a result, the people concerned have been less equipped to navigate key procedures such as family reunification or naturalization. Stateless Syrians widely perceive their statelessness as a factor that has increased their vulnerability at different stages of their journey to, as well as their reception in, their settled country.
From the interviews conducted for this report, the following issues were highlighted in particular: accessing protection in Europe, registration as ‘stateless’, family reunification, naturalization, avoidance of childhood statelessness.