Orfes d’estat

Per Marina Arbós Junyent i Mar Grau Esteve


English version

State orphans

In a world organised in borders and passports, being stateless implies to live with uncertainty -In Spain, the origin of 99 % stateless people is Saharan people.

“You move in an ill-defined direction, but you will arrive somewhere with hope”. While he took the last sip of warm coffee from that bar in Barceloneta, Mansur pronounced these words. Although he is a Saharan man, his documentation figures as stateless. This condition is acquired when a person has no recognition from any country as a citizen and, as a matter of fact,  his daily life is a struggle in this legal bubble. His horizon is not clear nor defined, but he will find a solution with hope and will keep fighting to have a worthy life.

There are many others in his situation worldwide. Being stateless is a massive issue, invisible though, that affects around 10 million people all over the world, according to ACNUR data. It is essential to have nationality for the full participation into society and an indispensable requirement to delight in all fundamental rights. If they don’t hold a nationality, there is not a relationship between the state and the person: “We are left orphans”, he explains.

In Spain, 99 % of stateless status applicants are Saharan people. This number is the result of not recognising from Spain the Sahara as a country. Migrant people from this world spot are not recognised. The system doesn’t bear them in mind. If they want to be considered a citizen like the rest, one of the fastest options is to request the statelessness: “In my case, they took only two years”, Mansur said. In this way, they obtain a permanent residence that only has to be renewed every five years. They cannot be returned to their country of origin, since, legally, they don’t have one. Requesting the nationality or depending on a visa is a very slower process and insecure, since the resolution is not in their favour in many cases.

Mansur is 41 years old and he currently lives in Barcelona, the presumed Mediterranean big and business town. In 2012, he begun a one-way long journey. He arrived at Catalunya with an uncertain future that didn’t hold in his hands, but he has a luggage full of hopes and dreams yet to be accomplished. Fortunately, his migratory route did not include risk his life on a dinghy to cross the Strait of Gibraltar. He came here with a visa that allowed him to be in Spanish territory for a given season. Four years ago, he worked in a restaurant of the Rambla and he has because of it the required stability to afford a house and move forward in this bureaucratic maze. In Catalunya, he has found the house that his passport denied him.


He arrived eight years ago seeking a worthy life. He left behind his back the Saharan refugee camps in Tindouf (Alger) of inhuman conditions: temperature might reach the 50 degrees, just two physicians per 10 000 residents and hygienic conditions are very precarious. Food and water are scarce and in portions, since they only depend on international aid. Houses are made of mud and, if it rains, they come down. Lifespan is 64 years old. In reality, however, progress with these conditions is impossible, in the middle of nowhere.

Coming to Spain is an elevated option for the Saharan people for many reasons. First of all, the geographical proximity, also the sentimental one: Sahara was the 53rd Spanish province until 1975. For this reason, many of these people have relatives that hold Spanish nationality.

In this way, the statelessness and nationality request process make it easier and it speeds up. Moreover, Spain is a country that counts on a specific proceeding to recognize the stateless status; holding it is one of the recommendations of ACNUR for a greater degree of legal security.

In 1954 was signed the Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons that, for the first time, was stablished a definition and a minimum rules of treatment for the group. Seven years later, in 1961, another was redacted to reduce the statelessness cases. ACNUR launched, 4 November, the campaign #IBelong in order to ending statelessness in 2024. To do so, they stablished a ten actions guiding framework that, in theory, states have to carry out. Some of them are: ending the gender discrimination in the nationality laws or making sure that no child is born as a stateless person.

Although the stability and the possibility of permanent residence are considered advantages for those in a stateless condition, the daily life highlights the inconvenients. From a sentimental point of view, you are from nowhere. You are denied of existence, origins and roots. Besides, Saharan people that have family in the occupied Sahara cannot visit them, since Morocco does not recognize the stateless status and, therefore, they cannot enter to the country. But it is precisely the everyday life what is being compromised with the same system.

One day, Mansur had to file a complaint in a police station of Barcelona and, as usual, they requested his personal data. In the nationality square, his response was “stateless person”. This option was not in that computer and he could not write it. It had to be chosen from the existing nationalities. Finally, it may be because it was the first that appeared or to get out of trouble, they attributed him with the Alger nationality. Facts like this one, show the state up and its lacks.

Being deprived of nationality implies that they do not belong to the world and live or die without leaving trace. However, fortunately, Mansur has been able to process the nationality and he has green light now. If everything goes well, he has scheduled in May of this year to take the oath, the last step of this large ladder full of obstacles. “At the end we are recognized by who colonized us for more than a century”. 


Madrid Tripartite Agreement
In 1975, Spain transferred the Saharan administration to Morocco and abandoned the territory sloppily. Rights were not guaranteed in the decolonization process.

Green March
In 1975, 350.000 Moroccan people occupied Spanish Sahara and camped there, blocking the referendum of self-determination. The key points were USA, France and Saudi Arabia.

They lost it all
n 1975, this occupation forced thousands of people to escape to Alger territory, where they settled in refugee camps.

45 years later, most of Saharan people keep on waiting a solution to return to their country. Years go by and silence continues in endless negotiations. It’s all about interest.

Professor of International Public Law in the UPF -in his office at the UPF- is a professor of International Public Law and International Relations in the Pompeu Fabra University for more than ten years.

What does it imply to be a stateless person legally?
Statelessness is considered as people that does not hold any nationality from any country. It is a situation that international law is committed to prevent. Law wants to avoid statelessness.

How does international law work in this regard?
International law regulates relations between the states. Each state has its territory and exercises sovereignty upon its people. The bond that exists between state and person is the nationality. The state protects people of its nationality and this is the main idea in international law.

And the nationality importance…
It is so important that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognizes the fundamental right of people to have a nationality, and to not be denied of it arbitrarily. It is a basic right. Wherever you go, everyone will know that you are from somewhere, that you have roots, and you will enjoy the benefits that comes with it.

What is the criteria of the states to grant the nationality by default?
Traditionally immigration country, the nationality is obtained according to the place you born. That is to say, the direct channel to obtain it is being born in their territory. On the contrary, in Spain, as a traditionally emigration country, the main criteria are by bloodline channel. That is to say, the nationality passes down from parents to children. On the other hand, each country also has established the way to obtain it by other channels.

How does a person end up in the statelessness situation?
The convention says that a person can be stateless if they had a nationality of a country that has disappeared, by the administration decision or a conflict between two legislations.

What did it mean the Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons of 1954?
It is the first one. It is the cornerstone of the international regime in protecting the people in this situation. It gave us a definition and a minimum rules of treatment for this group of people, for instance, the right to access to work, house or education.

And what about the 1961 one?

This one was made to reduce the statelessness cases. It established the limited situations in which the states could deny people of their nationality.

How does it affect statelessness to minors?
Minors are in a situation of more vulnerability. The United Nation Convention has to be considered, since it protects minors’ rights, for example, to be able to access to education… In the adult cases, this is not foreseen.

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