At least 10 million people worldwide are stateless, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) . The organization estimates that approximately 40,000 stateless persons are living in Ukraine. At the same time, no single institution in our country collects accurate data on the number of such people. Who are they and why did the problem of statelessness arise at all? Let’s try to find out. But first, let’s look at the definitions that will help to do it.
Stateless person (or just “Stateless”) – a person whom no country in the world recognizes as its citizen .
A person at the risk of statelessness – a person who has difficulty confirming the fact of belonging to the citizenship of Ukraine or any other state .
An unidentified person is an undocumented person whose nationality is unknown.
An undocumented person is a person who, due to certain life circumstances, does not have an identity document.
Identity documents: a passport of a citizen of Ukraine; passport of a citizen of Ukraine for travel abroad; diplomatic passport of Ukraine; service passport of Ukraine; seafarer’s identity card; crew member ID; identity card for return to Ukraine; temporary identity card of a citizen of Ukraine; driving license; stateless identity card for travel abroad; permanent residence permit; temporary residence permit; migrant certificate; refugee certificate; refugee travel document; certificate of a person in need of complementary protection .
Documents confirming the citizenship of Ukraine: a passport of a citizen of Ukraine; passport of a citizen of Ukraine for travel abroad; diplomatic passport of Ukraine; service passport of Ukraine; seafarer’s identity card; crew member ID; identity card for return to Ukraine; temporary identity card of a citizen of Ukraine .
Naturalization – the process of granting a foreigner or a stateless person the citizenship of Ukraine .
Certificate of application for recognition as a stateless person – a document issued to a person on the day of submission of the application for recognition as a stateless person for the entire period of its consideration. The certificate confirms the existence of the legal grounds for a temporary stay on the territory of Ukraine and is not a document proving the identity of an applicant .
The procedure for recognizing a stateless person is the procedure for granting a person who is not recognized as a citizen by any state the official status of a stateless person. This status makes it possible to document a person (provide an identity document) and ensure his/her rights within the legal stateless person status.
Violation of the rules of stay on the territory of Ukraine – those are the offenses defined by Article 203 of the Code of Ukraine on Administrative Offenses. For example, living without documents that provide with the right to reside in Ukraine; invalid documents or documents that are no longer valid; employment without appropriate permission (if required), etc.
THE PROBLEM OF STATELESSNESS IN UKRAINE: CAUSES AND SCALE
As we wrote above, UNHCR states that almost 40,000 stateless persons are living in Ukraine. At the same time, only about 5,000 of them are registered at the State Migration Service of Ukraine (SMSU). However, this list includes only people who have a residence permit – they are recognized as stateless and are documented by other states. The same is true in Ukraine, but only recently they got a chance to obtain official status.
These are people who have no grounds for obtaining Ukrainian citizenship, and the countries of origin do not recognize them as their citizens (in particular, the countries of citizenship of their parents). They have been living in Ukraine for years, deprived of the opportunity to obtain an identity document and allow them to stay legally in the country.
These people remain invisible to the state and cannot exercise their rights to education and health care, inherit, open a bank account, register a marriage, cross borders freely, and so on.
Among the reasons that led to the loss of citizenship: the collapse of the USSR, loss of documents, migration, loss of parents or limited information about them, ignorance of the order of restoration of documents, other personal circumstances.
More than half of the persons who receive legal assistance from the Charitable Fund “Right to Protection” (R2P) on issues of registration/confirmation of citizenship were born on the territory of Ukraine or the Ukrainian USSR.
The vast majority of all those who applied to the R2P (98.5%) were born in the countries of the former USSR. Thus, statelessness in Ukraine is primarily related to the consequences of the collapse of the USSR and the need to obtain citizenship of the successor states of the USSR.
Usually undocumented persons who apply to the Charitable Fund “Right to Protection” (R2P) for citizenship are also socially vulnerable. Those are single elderly people, Roma, persons released from places of detention, internally displaced persons (IDPs). For the most part, they do not have the appropriate education and legal background and therefore cannot change their status without legal aid.
Representatives of the Roma ethnic minority are also in a difficult situation, whose citizenship is difficult to prove due to the lack of identity documents of their parents and the inability to prove contact with them.
THE INFLUENCE OF AN ARMED CONFLICT
The armed conflict in eastern Ukraine and the formation of illegal armed groups in the uncontrolled areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts in 2014 caused many problems with documenting the people living in those territories.
In the Non-Government Controlled Areas (NGCA) of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, the territorial subdivisions of the State Migration Service of Ukraine (SMSU), as well as the other governmental bodies, stopped their activities. Therefore, to apply to the SMSU in the Government-Controlled Areas (GCA) for registration of a passport, persons residing in the NGCA must cover long distances and cross the “contact line” through Entry-Exit Checkpoints (EECPs). The actual process of crossing the Checkpoints is difficult and physically exhausting, accompanied by several hours in an open-air with different weather conditions.
Until 2017, when the Unified State Demographic Register became operational, the Migration Service did not have a single electronic database of issued passports. Therefore, there is currently no information on Ukrainian passports issued before 2014 in Donbas. At the same time, the law requires that each person needs to be identified to be issued a passport.
The procedure for processing the documents for persons from Non-Government Controlled Areas is discriminatory in comparison with the rest of the population of the country due to the complex and lengthy identification procedure. This often hinders the issuance of a passport of a citizen of Ukraine, leaving a person in an uncertain legal status. For example, in order to simply paste a photo into a passport at the age of 25 and 45, a person usually has to go through the lengthy procedure of establishing a person in the territorial division of the State Migration Service. The same applies to the exchange in case of loss or damage of a passport issued before 2014 in the now NGCA of the Donbas region.
According to UNHCR, almost 65,000 children born in Non-Government Controlled Areas have not received Ukrainian birth certificates yet. Due to the conflict in eastern Ukraine and the isolation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, they may have difficulty obtaining a passport when they will turn 14 years old.
Birth certificates issued by the so-called “authorities” at the NGCA from the second half of 2014 are not valid. In 2018, Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine passed a law according to which documents confirming the fact of a child’s birth at the Non-Government Controlled Areas are now taken into account when registering the birth in Ukraine.
However, an administrative procedure for registering the birth of a child born in the Temporarily Occupied Territories (TOT) has not yet been introduced. The procedure for registering such a child is quite complex and requires: obtaining a written refusal from the State Registrar of Civil Status Acts (SRCSA) department in the territory controlled by the government of Ukraine; appeal to the court with a statement to establish the fact of the birth of a child; re-application to the SRCSA department with a court decision to obtain a birth certificate of the state standard.
Given the complexity of this procedure, it should be simplified, in particular, by introducing an administrative procedure for registering the birth of children (submission of documents to the department of SRCSA) .
LEGISLATIVE BASIS THE STATUS OF STATELESS PERSONS
The Constitution of Ukraine stipulates that human rights and freedoms and their guarantees determine the content and direction of state activity. The state is accountable to its citizens. The promotion and protection of human rights and freedoms is the main duty of the state. Also, current international agreements, approved by the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, are part of the national legislation of Ukraine.
In 2013, Ukraine acceded to the 1954 UN Convention on the Status of Stateless Persons, the 1961 UN Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, and adopted the Law on the Legal Status of Foreigners and Stateless Persons, which established the international definition of a stateless person. The documents oblige all the signatory sides (states) to ensure certain civil, economic, property, social, and other rights of stateless persons in their territories and also require compliance with certain requirements to reduce their number in their territories.
On June 16, 2020, the Parliament of Ukraine adopted the Law “On Amendments to Certain Legislative Acts of Ukraine Concerning Recognition as a Stateless Person”, which entered into force in July of the same year. The law brings the definition of a stateless person into line with the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons. Namely: “A stateless person is a person who is not considered a citizen of any state under its law” (instead of “following its legislation”). Such clarification of the definition of a stateless person will prevent the exclusion from this category of persons whose state of origin is required by law to consider them their citizens, but in practice denies citizenship.
In addition, this law defines the procedure for recognizing a person as a stateless person, which will give thousands of stateless living in Ukraine for many years or for their whole lifetime possibility to finally obtain an identity document and become full members of society and exercise their rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution of Ukraine to all citizens without exception.
The procedure for consideration of applications for recognition as stateless persons is determined by the resolution of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine № 317 of 24.03.2021 “Some issues of recognition as a stateless person”.
STATELESS DETERMINATION PROCEDURE IN UKRAINE
Resolution of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine № 317, which approves the “Procedure for consideration of applications for recognition as a stateless person” (hereinafter – the Procedure), entered into force on April 16, 2021. From now on, people who are undocumented due to the lack of citizenship have the opportunity to apply to territorial divisions and territorial bodies of the State Migration Service of Ukraine with a statement for recognition as a stateless person.
The law protects the vulnerable undocumented persons from requirements that cannot be met:
- a person may apply for Stateless Determination Procedure regardless of the existence of legal grounds for residence in Ukraine;
- the burden of proving that a person is not a citizen of any of the countries is imposed on the State Migration Service of Ukraine (SMSU) and not on the person (it is almost impossible to collect the necessary evidence for a person who does not have an identity document);
- if necessary, the applicant will be provided with an interpreter, his/her documents will be translated;
- a person whose application for recognition as a stateless person will be considered by the SMSU unit, or who will appeal the refusal to be recognized will be able to work officially at this time, but with the permission of the employment center;
- during the procedure, the applicant has the right to an interview with a Migration Service employee.
At the same time, both the law and the Procedure establish a number of important responsibilities for persons applying for a stateless status:
- the applicant is obliged to appear for interviews or to inform in advance about the need to postpone the date of the interview (there may be several);
- provide evidence available to him to confirm his/her words;
- if during the procedure the applicant has a new document that is essential for the procedure of recognition as a stateless person, he/she is obliged to provide it to the Migration Service within 10 working days from the date of receipt;
- after receiving the decision on recognition as a stateless person, the applicant is obliged within ten days to apply to the SMSU for a temporary residence permit; if a person has been recognized as stateless, and after that he/she has acquired the citizenship of a foreign state, such a person is obliged to notify the Migration Service in writing within 30 days from the date of registration of citizenship.
The procedure distributes the powers of the State Migration Service of Ukraine regarding the procedure for recognizing stateless persons between its territorial bodies, territorial divisions, responsible structural units, employees, and the responsible authorized persons (officials) of the Service.
According to the Procedure, a person may apply at the place of residence to the territorial division/territorial body of the SMSU (regional branches, the list of which is available on the official website of the Migration Service). On the day of receiving the application, the Service issues a certificate of application for recognition as a stateless person to the applicant, which is valid for 6 months from the date of application and confirms that the person is temporarily on the territory of Ukraine on legal grounds.
Charitable Fund “Right to Protection” (R2P) has prepared detailed instructions on how to apply for recognition as a stateless person in Ukraine, where you can learn more about:
- the preparation for applying;
- what is the Recognition Act and why the Migration Service will interview the applicant’s neighbors, relatives, or acquaintances;
- what is an interview;
- in which case the applicant may be denied and how to appeal the illegal refusal to accept the application for recognition as a stateless person.
You can also watch a short video on the procedure for recognition as a stateless person in Ukraine.
It is impossible to estimate exactly how many people in Ukraine will be able to access the procedure. However, it will be available to at least 10% of the total number of beneficiaries of the CF “Right to Protection” (R2P).
PROBLEMS WITH THE PROCEDURE FOR CONFIRMATION OF UKRAINIAN CITIZENSHIP
Article 3 of the Law of Ukraine “On Citizenship” defines the range of persons who are automatically recognized as the citizens of Ukraine. Confirmation of belonging to the citizenship of Ukraine is regulated by the “Procedure for Proceedings on Applications and Submissions on Citizenship of Ukraine and the Execution of Adopted Decisions”, approved by the Decree of the President of Ukraine on March 27, 2001, № 215.
If a person does not have sufficient documents to prove his / her citizenship in Ukraine, he/she must apply to the court to establish the fact (facts) that have legal significance. In particular, to establish the fact of residence on the territory of Ukraine as of 1991, to establish the identity of the applicant and/or belonging to the citizenship of the former USSR as of 1991.
A person must collect information about studying at school, college, university; about official employment for a certain period; living in a particular location; “Form 1” – an application for the issuance of a passport of a citizen of the former USSR; other information that can help establish the fact (facts) that have legal significance.
Collecting documents for an undocumented person is extremely problematic: without an identity document, authorities and institutions do not issue certificates. The success of such a case depends on the persistence of the person and the presence of a lawyer who can request the necessary information. Often the documents have to be translated (for example, a birth certificate issued by a foreign state) into Ukrainian at the expense of the applicant, and more than once.
It is extremely difficult to confirm the citizenship of Ukraine by a person who has lived and obtained a passport of a citizen of Ukraine in the now Non-Government Controlled Areas. Since internal (non-biometric) passports of Ukrainian citizens issued before 2016 are available only in paper variants, their authenticity can be confirmed only by comparing them with the data of the archival card in the archives of the territorial body where they were issued.
However, passports issued in the occupied territory of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and at the NGCA of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts cannot be verified. In case of loss of this document, a person must establish not only his / her identity, but also the belonging to the citizenship of Ukraine.
Identification of a person and establishment of the citizenship of Ukraine in such cases is carried out in the manner prescribed by the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine № 289 of June 4, 2014 “On approval of the Procedure for issuing documents confirming citizenship of Ukraine, identity or special status of the citizens in the temporarily occupied territory of Ukraine” and the resolution of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine “On approval of the sample form, technical description and the Procedure for registration, issuance, exchange, transfer, withdrawal, return to the state, invalidation, and destruction of Ukrainian passport” № 302 of March 25, 2015.
Based on the experience of our lawyers, who provide legal assistance in such complex cases, the CF “Right to Protection” (R2P) has prepared a brochure on the legal protection of stateless persons, asylum seekers, and refugees. It outlines in detail the algorithms for confirming citizenship of Ukraine, identification, registration of the birth of a child, and other required procedures. Unfortunately, some individuals fail to prove their citizenship in Ukraine and become stateless or at the risk of statelessness.
HOW R2P HELP STATELESS PERSONS?
Lawyers and attorneys of the Charitable Fund “Right to Protection” (R2P) have been providing free legal assistance to people living in Kyiv, Kharkiv, Donetsk, and Luhansk oblasts since 2017 in proving their citizenship of Ukraine or a foreign state, passing identification, confirmation of the fact of birth and in the collection of the documents required for recognition as a stateless person.
R2P unites the efforts of partner organizations in solving systemic problems that lead to regular violations of the rights of stateless persons. In particular, in 2020, in order to monitor compliance with Ukraine’s international obligations, the CF “Right to Protection” (R2P), Charitable Foundation “ROKADA”, NGO “The Tenth of April” (“DESYATE KVITNYA”) and the International Fund for Public Health and Environment “Carpathian Region” NEEKA prepared the UPR Alternative Interim Report “State of Observance of the Rights of Refugees, Asylum Seekers and Stateless Persons in Ukraine”.
A coalition of partner organizations that protect the rights of refugees, displaced, migrants, and other vulnerable people has prepared and submitted a joint position to the relevant committee of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine on the Bill №3475 “On Administrative Procedure”. The coalition’s comments in 2021 were partially taken into account. After the introduction of the administrative procedure in Ukraine it will support the other legal acts which regulate these issues.
The Charitable Fund “Right to Protection” (R2P) team actively supported the need to establish a procedure for recognition as a stateless person in Ukraine after the ratification of the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons. The Foundation’s experts were actively involved in the process of drafting amendments to a number of laws of Ukraine on recognition as a stateless person in Ukraine. The Law of Ukraine “On Amendments to Certain Legislative Acts of Ukraine Concerning Recognition as a Stateless Person” was adopted on June 16, 2020, and entered into force on July 18, 2020. Read more about these changes following this link.
In the process of implementation of the procedure for recognition as a stateless person, Fund facilitates the work of the State Migration Service of Ukraine by disseminating the information about the requirements for the procedure, as well as through providing free legal aid and support to stateless persons. At the same time, the R2P team monitors compliance with the legislation of Ukraine. We protect the rights of stateless persons wherever they are violated or restricted, in particular – in the court.
Charitable Fund “Right to Protection” (R2P) reviews the legislation and provides recommendations to the authorities on improving the laws and by-laws of Ukraine. The organization was actively involved in the development of the new Human Rights Strategy and the draft Action Plan to the Strategy. The new Strategy in the field of human rights does not bypass the problem of statelessness in Ukraine, including in the context of creating a new procedure for recognition as a stateless person. Overview of the Strategy can be viewed following this link.
How Svitlana found herself without both
the citizenships of Ukraine and Russia
Svitlana was born in Kharkiv, USSR and lived in the Soviet Russia from 1979 to 1989, and then returned to Svitlodarsk, Ukraine (Donetsk region), where she met her future husband. From the beginning of their life together, the woman lived at the address of registration of her future husband in Svitlodarsk. In 2013, Svitlana lost her USSR passport and applied to the Debaltseve State Migration Service territorial unit in the Donetsk region to obtain citizenship.
However, she did not have confirmation of registration in Ukraine as of 24 August 1991, so the woman was denied Ukrainian citizenship – she had to prove her residence in Ukraine at the time of the declaration of independence.
Unfortunately, due to lack of evidence, the court also refused to establish Svitlana’s residence in Svitlodarsk at the time of Ukraine’s declaration of independence on August 24, 1991, and at the time of the adoption of the Law of Ukraine on Citizenship of Ukraine on November 13, 1991.
Svitlana appealed to the Russian consulate, but she was also told that she was not a Russian citizen. Thus, the woman was left stateless in both of the countries to which she was related, and none of these countries wanted to document her with a passport. She is forced to live in Ukraine without an identity document, without legal personality, freedom of movement, and normal life.
The woman is looking forward to the opportunity to apply for recognition as a stateless person in Ukraine, to obtain official status, get a job and receive social protection.
The story of a man who wanted to prove that he was Ukrainian
In 2019, a man who had no passport for 32 years turned to R2P for help in obtaining a passport of a citizen of Ukraine.
The problem was that he and his parents had lived in Antratsyt in the Luhansk region since 1989, and due to the life circumstances could not obtain a passport of a citizen of Ukraine at the age of 16 (he was sentenced to long-term imprisonment as a minor). After his release in 2014 in the Government-Controlled Area of Ukraine, the man was unable to return home.
Beneficiary applied to various bodies and subdivisions of the State Migration Service of Ukraine to obtain a passport of a citizen of Ukraine, but this ended in refusals, as there was no documentary evidence of his citizenship in Ukraine. The man tried to gather evidence to prove his citizenship on his own, but the city of Antratsyt, Luhansk Oblast, remained in the temporarily occupied territory of Ukraine. It was already obvious that his case required professional legal assistance.
Our lawyer collected the necessary evidence that the beneficiary belonged to the citizenship of Ukraine and filed a lawsuit to establish the fact of residence as a minor in Ukraine as of 24.08.1991 and the decision of the district court of Luhansk region satisfied the requirements.
After the court decision came into force, the beneficiary applied to the district department of the State Migration Service of Ukraine for citizenship of Ukraine. However, he later received a refusal based on the fact that the man had not submitted identity documents with the application.
It is possible to establish a person under such conditions only in court. The lawyer filed a lawsuit again to establish the identity of the man. However, the court refused to open proceedings, stating that the court could not consider cases of identification.
This decision is controversial and is currently being appealed. However, the lawyer’s prognosis is positive – with the court decision it will be possible to identify a person and move to the next stage in obtaining citizenship.
 The Law of Ukraine “On the Legal Status of Foreigners and Stateless Persons” contains the following definition: “a person who is not considered a citizen of any state under its law.” It passed into Ukrainian law from the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons (also known in Ukraine as the Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons).
 These primarily relate to the persons who were documented with a passport before 1991 and did not replace the passport after the collapse of the USSR. The lion’s share of stateless persons and at risk of statelessness is the Roma population, which due to gaps in the legislation lived in Ukraine for several generations without being documented and without the possibility to obtain any documents.
 According to the Law of Ukraine “On the Unified State Demographic Register and documents confirming the citizenship of Ukraine, identity or special status”
 Only there
 Conditions for admission to Ukrainian citizenship are defined by Article 9 of the Law of Ukraine “On Citizenship of Ukraine”. For example recognition of laws and the Constitution of Ukraine, knowledge of the state language, continuous residence in Ukraine for a certain period, termination of foreign citizenship, and others.
 The certificate is valid for 6 months and can be extended if the term of consideration of the application for recognition as a stateless person was being extended.
 Review of the UPR Alternative Interim Report “State of Observance of the Rights of Refugees, Asylum Seekers and Stateless Persons in Ukraine”: https://r2p.org.ua/en/upr-alternative-interim-report-review/