More than half a million people in Europe are stateless and need extra protection, according to Commissioner for Human Rights Thomas Hammarberg.
In his latest European ‘Comment,’ the commissioner reports that: “Many people remain without a nationality. Even in relatively peaceful Europe they can be counted in hundreds of thousands. The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, estimates the number to be as high as 589 000.
“Stateless persons are often marginalised. When they lack birth certificates, identity cards, passports and other documents, they risk being excluded from education, healthcare, social assistance and the right to vote. A stateless person may not be able to travel or work legally. As a result the stateless have to grapple with inequality and discrimination – and with a heightened risk of being perceived as irregular.”
The commissioner is concerned by the treatment of ‘non-citizens’ in Latvia and Estonia, who don’t have the right to vote in national elections and “stateless” people of Roma origin.
“A great number of stateless persons in Europe are Roma. Some, who have moved from that region to other parts of Europe, are living as de facto stateless since they lack personal documents and live in legal uncertainty. For instance, there are approximately 15 000 persons in this situation in Italy. The exclusion and marginalisation that Roma persons already experience is compounded by the lack of effective nationality.”
Hammarberg adds: “Not having a nationality is to be marginalised, not to belong. The most important thing is that governments, ombudsmen, national human rights institutions and non-governmental organisations take action to defend their rights.”