UN agency criticises lack of process to recognise ‘stateless’ people in Ireland

Report raises concern stateless individuals left in ‘legal limbo’ for years

The United Nations Refugee Agency has criticised the Government for failing to introduce policies to identify cases of “stateless” people living in the Republic, often as a result of a break-up or transfer of territories.

Some populations often regarded as stateless include the Rohingya minority in Myanmar, Kurds from Syria, some parts of a Roma population, as well as the ethnic Nepalese population from Bhutan.

In a report on Tuesday, the Dublin office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said Irish authorities had only ever formally recognised two people as stateless, and issued no declarations of statelessness since 2014.

The report said individuals or minorities could find themselves stateless during the separation, creation or dissolution of states, or as a minority community facing discrimination.


The international agency said there was “little evidence to date of a political appetite” by the Government to introduce a formal process to determine if someone was stateless.

The report said this could be due to the perception the number of people in the Republic who were stateless, “is so low that such a process is not necessary”.

Despite not having a formal process to identify stateless individuals, the report said there was evidence of the asylum system recognising the issue.

The agency reviewed 43 applicants seeking asylum from Bhutan, Myanmar and Nepal, finding nine asylum seekers had claimed they were stateless. The report said this was accepted in seven of the applications for international protection.

However, the absence of any co-ordinated policy on the issue was hampering the “identification and protection” of stateless people, the report said.

This was resulting in vulnerable people being left in “a legal limbo” for considerable periods of time, it said.

Efforts to have stateless people try to obtain proof from embassies that they were not citizens of a certain country were often “ad hoc”, the agency stated.

The UNHCR recommended the Republic set up a “statelessness determination procedure”, which would set out a mechanism for how authorities would identify and provide supports to stateless people.

Enda O’Neill, head of the UNHCR in Ireland, said while the number of stateless people in the Republic was thought to be small, “the exact number is unknown since there is no systematic recording of statelessness data”.

Mr O’Neill said most people in the situation “end up in the asylum process”, where they face lengthy delays to secure permission to remain in Ireland.

The lack of a formal framework also meant many people worried about “potentially passing statelessness on to their children,” he said.

Jack Power

Jack Power

Jack Power is acting Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times