Statistical Standards for Statelessness

Ensuring that statistical producers worldwide use the same definitions and approaches when capturing statelessness, by supporting EGRISS to develop international recommendations on statelessness statistics, for adoption by the UN Statistical Commission.

13 Jul, 2023

Overall objectives

The ultimate objective of the work is to improve evidence on stateless populations in order to improve their wellbeing and integration, as well as to advance the resolution of statelessness itself. This work on improved data will help inform evidence-based policymaking, programming, and advocacy to address statelessness, which requires knowing how many stateless people there are, where they are, and their key socio-demographic characteristics.

Activity description

In 2018, the Secretary General of the United Nations called for improvements in data and estimates on stateless populations. In response, the UN Inter-agency Working Group on Statelessness set up a data sub-group, co-chaired by UNHCR and UNFPA, which recommended the initiation of two complementary workstreams: 1) a Member State-led process to improve national capacity, harmonize definitions and methodology in official statistics. This process will develop recommendations to mainstream statelessness into national statistical systems, under the umbrella of the Expert Group on Refugee and IDP Statistics. 2) An expert-driven process working on modelling and methods to improve global estimates.

This project proposes two complementary workstreams to improve statelessness data.  First, it proposes that EGRIS develop a set of recommendations that will enable national statistics offices to collect consistent data on stateless persons while, at the same time building political support for them, so that they are adopted by the UN Statistical Commission (UNSC) in 2023.  Recommendations from the UNSC can significantly improve national data collection.  This will subsequently improve the quality of data reported to UNHCR and increase the number of countries reporting statelessness data to UNHCR.

As the recommendations ultimately adopted by the UNSC will only result in improvements over time, there is an urgent need to improve the estimates of stateless persons in the meantime. Consequently, the second work stream proposed will aim to develop improved estimates in the short term by applying statistical and demographic modelling techniques using the limited data available.

Workstream 1: Improving national data and official statistics

Through EGRIS, this workstream will bring together a group of experts to develop recommendations on the production of statelessness statistics, including guidance on data collection, indicator development, and analysis. The experts will be from national statistical systems as well as representatives from international and regional organizations mandated to collect population data. This work will be subject to a peer review process and a global consultation on the draft International Recommendations on Statelessness Statistics.

Workstream 2: Modelling methods on statelessness estimates

Led by UNHCR and United Nations Population Fund, this workstream will include experts from academia, civil society, and international and regional organizations.  The activities will first categorize the various reasons for and pathways to statelessness (such as state succession, migration, and gaps in nationality laws). Then, available and prospective data sources will be mapped, proxy determinants, and estimation methods to these categories of statelessness aiming to develop indirect modelling methods. Estimation methods will depend on the nature of statelessness and the data availabile, and may range from demographic estimation methods in intercensal intervals (for static populations) to the use of administrative data sources (to estimate statelessness caused by recent migration). The workstream will publish peer-reviewed methodological papers, data and estimates, and progress reports.

Engagement with partners

For both workstreams, collaboration and partnership with national statistical systems, and statistical branches within regional and international organizations are key elements of the work. The partnership also extends to statistical experts and academia.

Background and Context

A significant “data gap” exists between the number of stateless people reported in UNHCR’s statistical publications (some 4.2 million people as of the 2019 Global Trends Report) and the often cited but unverified global estimate of 10 million people. The 4.2 million figure is based on statistics gathered at country-level from 76 States and then made available to UNHCR to collate, validate, and publish in Global Trends and other publications.  Based on weaknesses in the reported data and the fact that most countries do not report any statelessness data at all, including many countries with the highest overall population figures, UNHCR is confident that the number of stateless people it reports is significantly lower than the real global number. However, it has not been able to significantly improve the reported figure in recent years, or arrive at a robust and reliable estimate for the total number of stateless people. Improved data on the situation of statelessness and stateless people is critical to raise awareness of this important issue and support evidence-based policy development at the national level. Improved quantitative and qualitative data on statelessness is accordingly one of the 10 Actions of the Global Action Plan to End Statelessness, 2014-2024.

This project is thus an important part of the overall effort by UNHCR and the international community as a whole to eradicate statelessness. The project will seek to leverage the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, which, with its strong resolve to “leave no one behind”, provides an important opportunity to advance the visibility of statelessness and evidence on stateless persons by focusing on their inclusion in the reporting on progress toward the goals. This work is proposed in the middle of UNHCR’s Campaign to End Statelessness by 2024, which enjoys broad political support.  Of the 252 pledges delivered by States at the recent High-Level Segment on Statelessness organized by UNHCR in October 2019, more than 30 pledges related to improving data on statelessness, either through qualitative and quantitative studies or by including relevant questions on nationality and statelessness in the next national census.  There is thus evidence of increased political will and interest by States in improving data in this area, and more reliable data on statelessness is of critical importance to advocacy efforts by UNHCR and its partners and to solutions for stateless persons.


For further details on this activity, please contact:

Felix Schmieding – [email protected]

Additional resources


International Recommendations on Statelessness Statistics


Expert Group on Refugee, IDP & Statelessness Statistics

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