What is Statelessness?

International Definition

​The international legal definition of a stateless person is set out in Article 1 of the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, which defines a stateless person as

"a person who is not considered as a national by any State under the operation of its law".

It means that a stateless person does not have nationality or citizenship in any country of the world.

Here, nationality refers to the legal bond between a person and a state. This bond can best be seen as a form of official membership which confers upon the national certain rights (like the right to live in the country or participate in elections) as well as duties (like the duty of military service, where this is still in place).


A person who is stateless lacks this membership and will be seen and treated as a foreigner by every country in the world. This phenomenon has also been described as “de jure statelessness”.

Please learn more here.

Common Challenges of a Stateless Person:

Stateless people frequently lack any and all identity documents like birth certificates or passports. Most importantly, stateless people have no way of getting documents.


You might have tried many times to get a passport, a birth certificate or an ID, or even to deport yourself, only to find yourself turned away again and again because you "don't qualify."

Stateless people are deprived of basic human rights, and this often leads to:

- no identification (no ID, no bank accounts, no driver's license etc.)

- no healthcare

- no work

- no travel

- no education

- family separation

- detention

- homelessness

- poverty

- marginalization

- depression, severe anxiety and mental health issues

The Difference between


Stateless Persons:

“De Jure Stateless”:

A person who in fact has NO Nationality, lacking a legal bond with a State (a Nation) and is perceived and treated as a foreigner by every country in the world.


“De Facto Stateless” :


A person who in fact holds a nationality – is considered as a national by a state under the operation of its law – but this nationality is in some way ineffective, or difficult to prove.

Statelessness and Trafficking:

There is often a close link between statelessness and human trafficking. This article in Foreign Policy magazine explores the link for Roma people. Many stateless people are likely trafficked into the US via the border with Mexico, others by plane or even boat. You can watch a video on stateless Roma in the US here.