Statelessness in Protracted Refugee Situations: Former Angolan and Rwandan Refugees in Zambia

Mazuba Muchindu

African Human Mobility Review, Volume 8, Issue 3 (2022)

This summary is part of a series of summaries of articles on statelessness. The quantitative literature on stateless population is very limited. We include these summaries in our Literature Review Updates and Database to highlight research on statelessness and the need to collect more data to facilitate studies on the related issues.


This article discusses the risk of statelessness in protracted refugee situations, focusing on the case of former Angolan and Rwandan refugees in Zambia. The author argues that once refugee status is withdrawn through a cessation agreement, former refugees may find themselves at risk of statelessness if they are unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin or they are required meet onerous requirements to acquire citizenship in a host country.

In Zambia, former refugees from Rwanda and Angola, whose refugee status has ceased, are effectively stateless and face multiple barriers to accessing livelihood opportunities and services. Former refugees are required to have a national registration card and passport when they apply for residence, employment, or business permits, and only after ten years of being an ordinary resident in Zambia can they apply for citizenship. The requirement to have national identification documents has been an impediment for many former refugees, especially Rwandans, who must apply for a passport in Rwanda; many former Rwandan refugees fear returning to their home country to apply for a passport and application fees are unaffordable for many refugees. For former Angolan refugees, the Zambian government has offered to integrate those who arrived between 1966 and 1986, but most of those who arrived after 1986 do not have any form of identification. Risk of statelessness extends to children born to refugees because Zambian laws do not automatically grant citizenship to children born to foreign parents on Zambian territory.

The author argues for the definition of statelessness to be extended to include de facto statelessness. If a person is unwilling or unable to avail themself of the protection of their country of origin and are unable to acquire citizenship of the host country, they should be considered and treated as stateless persons. An extended definition should also include children born to refugee parents who are unwilling, or unable to avail themselves of the protection of their country of origin, and unable to acquire citizenship of the host country, in a country of asylum that does not automatically grant citizenship by birth.

The author highlights several policy implications for the case of former refugees in Zambia, including: (1) broadening the definition of statelessness to include de facto statelessness; (2) granting nationality to children born in Zambia who would otherwise be at risk of becoming stateless; and (3) waiving requirements that are difficult for refugees to meet in order to become permanent residents and naturalized citizens. The author also calls for increased attention to the risk of statelessness in protracted refugee situations by both academics and practitioners.