Since 1948, the United Nations and other international bodies have adopted resolutions and conventions highlighting the importance of preventing and eliminating statelessness. Despite recognising that every person should have a nationality, there are currently an estimated 10 million stateless people globally, around 600,000 of whom are in Europe. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), every 10 minutes a baby is born stateless around the world.
In recent years, political instability and the global refugee crisis have made the topic of statelessness ever more relevant. Especially where children on the move are concerned, states are under the obligation to ensure that they are protected in law. As a signatory to the UN Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons 1954 (1954 Convention) and one of the first five states to ratify the UN Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness 1961 (1961 Convention), Austria has recognised the importance of safeguarding nationality rights to prevent statelessness. Nonetheless, gaps in Austrian nationality law remain with growing concern about children at risk of being born stateless in Austria.
UNHCR’s recent mapping study provides for the first time, invaluable in-depth analysis of statelessness in Austria. This report aims to build on this with a specific focus on childhood statelessness in Austria, highlighting where gaps in law and policy remain, and making recommendations for reform to bring Austrian legislation in line with international standards under the 1954 and 1961 Conventions.
The first section of the report provides a brief overview of the national and international context regarding statelessness in Austria, including how statelessness is defined in Austrian law and relevant international instruments. The right to nationality is an important aspect of international law and being stateless can have a detrimental impact on the realisation of basic human rights, such as the right to equal treatment before the law, and to work, education and health. The second section, therefore, outlines how nationality is regulated in Austria, identifying shortcomings in Austrian nationality law.
Statelessness at birth continues to be a persistent problem in Austria. To address this, it is vital to guarantee the protection of all children from statelessness in both law and practice. In the third section, the report evaluates the current position of children in Austria who may fall into specific categories for the acquisition of nationality such as adoption, surrogacy or foundlings; and makes recommendations for reform to bring Austrian law in line with international legal standards.
The fourth section discusses the link between birth registration and nationality, addressing barriers to birth registration and documentation in the Austrian context, analysing nationality and civil law, and making recommendations for access to birth registration as an essential tool for combating statelessness. The final section summarises the report’s conclusions and makes key recommendations towards ending childhood statelessness in Austria.