Statelessness: Where small changes can have profound impact


Dear JDC Newsletter subscriber,

I have just returned from Hangzhou, China, where I spoke at the World Data Forum. Led by the UN, the event draws together people, like me, who want to promote the use of data to form more effective public policy. At a session on statelessness that I moderated, Monika Sandvik, Senior Statelessness Coordinator, UNHCR, explained that “While the estimated number of stateless people is 4.3million, the true number is believed to be significantly higher. For fifty percent of the countries, no data is available.”

Data rarely has more potential to change a person’s life than when they are stateless. Statelessness denies people public services and basic human rights. Statelessness, by its very nature, equates to exclusion – exclusion that is entrenched in statistics, as stateless people are systematically omitted from national population censuses and administrative registries.

“It’s a situation where a small change can have a great impact,” says Sergiu Gaina, a Statelessness Officer for UNHCR in Kazakhstan. In Central Asia, many ex-citizens of the former Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics did not confirm their citizenship of the newly independent states at the end of the soviet era leaving countless people in the region stateless. In response, Central Asian Governments and organizations like UNHCR, have helped to resolve statelessness for over 180,000 people since 2014.

Yet it is difficult to estimate how much of a difference this has made to the overall problem of statelessness. Of all the Central Asian states, only Kyrgyzstan has conducted comprehensive countrywide mapping. In 2021, an opportunity to quantify the problem emerged as censuses were occurring in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan over the next two years. Seizing on this, the JDC provided support to UNHCR to improve the capacity of National Statistical Offices, to train census enumerators on citizenship status and statelessness and to conduct information campaigns to increase awareness of statelessness and to encourage their inclusion in censuses.

It is the job of the Expert Group on Refugee, IDP and Statelessness Statistics (EGRISS) to produce common standards and ways of counting stateless people. In March this year, their report on statelessness statistics, presenting the International Recommendation on Statelessness Statistics (IROSS), was endorsed by the UN Statistical Commission, taking us all forward on the path to end statelessness. As Marya Strode and Melanie Khanna, authors in this month’s Literature Review conclude, “…IROSS when adopted will help to contribute to the production of better quality, harmonized, and comparable statistics. However, there also needs to be a significant increase in the number of countries producing statistics on their stateless populations.”

We hope you find the Newsletter and Literature Review Update helpful. Please don’t hesitate to reach out with any comments, questions or suggestions, either to myself ([email protected]) or Melany Markham ([email protected]).

Yours sincerely,

Maja Lazić

Deputy Head of the World Bank – UNHCR Joint Data Center on Forced Dispalcement