Last Saturday, April 6, the UK introduced a statelessness determination procedure. From now on, people unable to leave the UK and return to another country and considering themselves to be stateless can apply for leave to remain as a stateless person.
The procedure will be accessible to any stateless person present in the UK, and not limited to those with lawful residence. There is no time limit within which a statelessness claim must be lodged following entry. Furthermore, stateless persons may be granted permanent residence after five years, following which they will have the opportunity to be naturalised as British citizens.
Asylum Aid and UNHCR, whose study mapping statelessness in the UK recommends the introduction and implementation of a fair and efficient procedure for the identification of stateless asylum seekers, welcomed these steps but Asylum Aid raised certain concerns. Firstly, it allows for great discretion when deciding upon exclusion of a stateless person to the new procedure. Secondly, it is not clear if stateless people will receive adequate support while their claim is being considered, or whether they will have access to an effective right of appeal in the event of refusal. Thirdly, the newly introduced cuts in the provision of legal aid will undermine the efficacy of the new procedure.
Statistics show that around 150 to 200 asylum seekers in the UK are recorded as being stateless, finding themselves in an “endless limbo” and “at daily risk of human rights infringements”, says Asylum Aid. The particular vulnerability of stateless persons who lack a right to remain in the UK as well as a nationality or right to reside in any other country leads often to situations of homelessness, destitution, and sometimes detention for an unlimited period of time – even though it is clear that they cannot be returned. Melissa Fleming, Chief Spokesperson for UNHCR, described the determination procedure as “a landmark step” with hugely positive effects for stateless asylum seekers.