"The term ‘stateless person’ means a person who is not considered as a national by any State under the operation of its law”.

This definition is found in Article 1 paragraph 1 of the United Nations Convention of 28 September 1954 relating to the Status of Stateless Persons. The Convention was adopted by the UN in 1954 in order to regulate the legal status and rights of residence of people displaced from their home countries during the Second World War who were not refugees as defined in the UN Refugee Convention of 1951. Switzerland ratified the Stateless Persons Convention in 1972.

The Swiss Federal Supreme Court amended this definition to add that a person must also be deemed stateless if they have lost their nationality through no fault of their own and have no means of regaining it.

Causes of statelessness

Statelessness can have a variety of causes. The dissolution of states, cession of territory and the arbitrary refusal or withdrawal of nationality by a nation state can lead to statelessness. Members of certain ethnic groups in a nation state or refugees may become stateless; for example, following the collapse of the former Soviet Union and the former Yugoslavia many people were left with no recognised nationality. Statelessness can also result from the different rules on citizenship applied by states to newly born children.

UN mandate

As the problems experienced by refugees and stateless persons often overlap, in 2003 the UN General Assembly gave the UN High Commission for Refugees UNHCR a special mandate to deal with stateless persons. The UNHCR works with governments to improve the legal and social status of stateless persons and to reduce their numbers. As far back as 1949, the UN set up the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) to monitor and support Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Jurisdiction in the recognition procedure

Under Article 14 of the Organisation Ordinance of 17 November 1999 for the Federal Department of Justice and Police FDJP (OrgO-FDJP; SR 172.213.1), in Switzerland the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) is responsible for conducting procedures to recognise statelessness. Foreign nationals who believe that they are stateless under the UN Convention of 28 September 1954 relating to the Status of Stateless Persons can apply to SEM to have their status as stateless recognised.

Formal requirements for verifying statelessness

A written application to be recognised as stateless may be submitted to the SEM in any of Switzerland’s official languages. The application must clearly state the grounds for recognition and include any available evidence. Each application is examined by SEM individually. SEM bases its examination on the provisions of the Federal Act on Administrative Procedure (APA; SR 172.021), the international rules contained in the Convention and the case law developed by the courts.

Article 1 paragraph 2 of the UN Convention of 28 September 1954 relating to the Status of Stateless Persons sets out the groups of persons to whom the Convention does not apply.

Rights of stateless persons recognised in Switzerland

When a person is recognised as being stateless in terms of the Convention, they have the right to remain resident in Switzerland (residence permit B). If a recognised stateless person has committed a criminal offence, residence rights may be limited to temporary admission (residence permit F). With regard to personal status and residence, recognised stateless persons are regarded as equivalent to refugees recognised under the Refugee Convention of 1951 who have been granted asylum. Recognised stateless persons are issued with Swiss travel documents on request.


Legal bases

Last modification 01.03.2019

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