Improving statistics on statelessness

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.

Activity Description

In 2018, the Secretary General of the United Nations called for improvements in data and estimates on stateless populations[1]. 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, using the work of the Expert Group on Refugee and IDP Statistics as a model, and engaging this group in the process. 2) An expert-driven process working on modelling and methods to improve global estimates.

This project therefore proposes two complementary workstreams to significantly improve statelessness data in the coming years.  First, it is proposed that an expert group works toward developing a set of recommendations that will capacitate and encourage national statistics offices to collect data on stateless persons.  This work will aim to both develop these technical recommendations and build political support for them over the next two years, with the goal of having them be adopted by the UN Statistical Commission (UNSC) in 2022.  Recommendations from the UNSC can be expected to significantly improve data collection at the national level over time.  This will in turn improve the quality of data reported to UNHCR as well as the number of countries reporting statelessness data to UNHCR.  There should accordingly be significant improvements in UNHCR’s reporting on statelessness in the medium to longer-term.

As the recommendations envisioned for adoption by the UN Statistical Commission will result in improvements only over a period of years, there is an urgent need to improve the global, regional, and national estimates of stateless persons in the meantime.  The second stream of work proposed will attempt to develop improved estimates in the relatively short term.  It will do this by applying statistical and demographic techniques to obtain estimates working with the limited data available.

Workstream 1: Improving national data and official statistics

This workstream emerges from an identified need for better data at the country level, including from censuses, administrative data systems, and surveys. Most importantly, there is a vital need for clear professional/technical norms for national statistics offices to use in producing official statistics on stateless persons.  The principal aim of this workstream is therefore to prepare a comprehensive set of International Recommendations on Statelessness Statistics for ultimate adoption by the UN Statistical Commission in 2022.  This will result in official statistical standards and technical guidance on the collection, synthesis, estimation, analysis, coordination, and dissemination of data and statistics on stateless persons. The methodology of this workstream will involve bringing together a group of national level and other experts to develop statistical recommendations on the production of statelessness statistics, including guidance on data collection, indicator development, and analysis. The work will involve country consultations to enhance understanding, cooperation, and improvement of national, regional, and global reporting on stateless persons and persons at risk of statelessness. Those engaged in this workstream will be technical experts from national statistical systems at the country level as well as representatives from international and regional organizations with a mandate for population data collection and statelessness. This work will be subject to a peer review process and a global consultation on the draft International Recommendations on Statelessness Statistics, which will offer the opportunity for further NSOs to review the recommendations.

Workstream 2: Improving statelessness estimates

This workstream aims at identifying and developing methods to obtain improved and comparable estimates of statelessness at the national, regional, and global levels, pending the improved production of data by NSOs over time. The workstream will be informed by and modeled, in part, on the successful Inter-agency Group on Mortality Estimates (IGME), and will include experts in academia, civil society, and international and regional organizations, co-led by UNHCR and UNFPA.  It will model and improve estimates using currently available data. The activities will first involve categorization of various reasons for and pathways to statelessness, such as state succession, migration, and gaps in nationality laws. This will be followed by a mapping of available and prospective data sources, proxy determinants, and estimation methods to these broad categories of statelessness situations, with the aim of developing a comprehensive estimation framework for stateless populations. Suitable estimation methods will depend on the exact nature of a statelessness situation and data availability. It may range from demographic estimation methods in intercensal intervals for relatively static stateless populations to the use of administrative data sources for the estimation of statelessness caused by recent migration. A thorough review and evaluation of the usefulness of existing data sources as well as suggestions for primary data collection where gaps exist, will be an integral part of the work. It will publish peer-reviewed methodological papers, data and estimates, and progress reports. By the end of 2021, the aim is for Workstream 2 to disseminate a reliable estimate of the global figure of stateless persons disaggregated by age, sex, and displacement status.

Synergies between the two workstreams

Workstream 1 and 2, while different in their goals and working methods, will contribute to and benefit from each other. While Workstream 1 aims to build consensus among experts representing UN Member States for a formally endorsed set of International Recommendations on Statelessness Statistics, Workstream 2 will develop a methodological framework to produce a global estimate of the number of stateless persons, working with existing data and estimation methods to generate country-level estimates. Workstream 1 will work independently from Workstream 2 to give the Member State-driven process time and space to build consensus and gather best practices from the perspective of countries. At the same time, the expert-driven process represented by Workstream 2 will enable a timely production of global statelessness estimates, and it will furthermore facilitate the development of a methodological framework for statelessness estimation.

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.

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.


For further details on this activity, please contact:

[1] UN Secretary-General (UNSG), Guidance Note of the Secretary General: The United Nations and Statelessness, November 2018

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