A stateless person is a person who does not have nationality or citizenship. There are a number of ways in which someone can become a stateless a person, but this condition is most common among refugees. Since 1954, when the United Nations held a conference to address this issue, the position of stateless persons has been greatly clarified, and many nations attempt to prevent people from becoming stateless.
One of the classic ways for someone to become a stateless person is the collapse of a national government. If the government is not replaced, former citizens may become stateless because they do not have official residency anywhere. Ethnic, religious, and cultural minorities who are denied citizenship may also be stateless. On a day to day basis, this may not be an issue, but as soon as these individuals travel, their stateless status will become a problem.
It is possible to become a stateless person by voluntarily renouncing citizenship, but this is rare, because consulates will usually not allow a person to renounce his or her citizenship without providing proof of citizenship somewhere else. This citizenship status may also occur when someone renounces citizenship without realizing that his or her citizenship in another nation has expired or not been validated. Both of these cases are increasingly rare, thanks to efforts to reduce the numbers of stateless persons worldwide.
Citizens can also be expelled by their governments, in which case they may become stateless as a result. People who are expelled can usually apply for refugee status on the strength of their expulsion, and some nations provide programs which are designed to help refugees attain citizenship quickly, especially if they are stateless. A stateless person may also be given special travel documents which allow him or her to pass through immigration to reach an end destination, as for instance in the case of a stateless person trapped in England who has been given refugee status in the Netherlands.
Stateless people face a number of problems. They are not entitled to the protections and benefits provided to citizens, for example, and they also usually cannot travel internationally. In some famous instances, stateless persons have been shuffled from place to place as they are repeatedly refused entry by immigration authorities. Many of them are the victims of violence or persecution, and their stateless status makes it difficult for them to seek assistance or find advocates.