RMRP: Statelessness Project - accessing citizenship and nationality

In March 2011, LHR launched a new project focusing on statelessness as part of the Refugee and Migrant Rights Programme.Due to a conflict of citizenship laws between various African nations, and intentionally discriminatory laws and practice, many Africans find themselves de jure stateless – they do not qualify for citizenship under any nation’s legal system.

» find out more about this programme »



The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (UNCROC) recently released its concluding recommendations on South Africa’s compliance with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Committee expressed concern with regards to childhood statelessness in South Africa. The Committee made no less than 12 recommendations on the documentation of children and resolving statelessness.


One recommendation expressly states that South Africa should ‘put in place regulations to grant nationality to all children in the jurisdiction of the State party who are or are at risk of being stateless’ as well as a recommendation to ‘review and amend all legislation … (on) birth registration and nationality … which have a discriminatory impact’. The UN Committee also urges South Africa to ‘systematically identify all undocumented children currently residing in Child and Youth Care Centres (CYCCs) and ensure their access to birth certificates and nationalities’ and to ratify the UN statelessness conventions. On refugee children the committee urges South Africa to strengthen data collection, streamline registration and documentation, ensure that the Refugee Amendment Bill is in line with the Convention and consider a providing permanent settlement to unaccompanied children.


LHR has documented case studies and suggested solutions to these problems. We submitted a report to Committee in collaboration with the Institute for Statelessness and Inclusion. Find the submissions here

Childhood statelessness in South Africa is a generally unaddressed, largely preventable, but growing phenomenon. This short publication presents the experiences of nine children who have been let down by the system, denied their right to acquire a nationality and rendered stateless in South Africa. The many issues that come to rise through their stories and the proposed solutions were brought to the attention of the Committee on the Rights of the Child (the Committee) by Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR) and the Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion (ISI) in a joint submission to the Committee in 2015.1 South Africa’s obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) are such that all children in the country who would otherwise be stateless, should have the right to acquire a nationality: no child should be left stateless (Article 7 of the Convention). This obligation is reiterated in the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. In addition Article 28 of the South African Constitution protects the right of every child to a name and a nationality from birth and more broadly protects a common citizenship. 

Despite its international and domestic obligations, South Africa’s legislative framework collectively creates and perpetuates childhood statelessness. Discrimination in the South African Citizenship Act, 1995 can be seen in the stories illustrated in this publication. Positive provisions are constrained by restrictive birth registration requirements of the Births and Deaths Registration Act (BDRA), 1992, which can lead to statelessness. The Immigration Act, 2004 also fails stateless unaccompanied migrant children who cannot be returned to their country of origin by not providing them with a legal immigration status.

South Africa is regrettably not a signatory to the 1954 UN Convention on the Status of Stateless Persons and the 1961 UN Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness. 

Download the report here: http://www.lhr.org.za/sites/lhr.org.za/files/lhr_stateless_booklet_5.pdf


The report “Queue Here for Corruption: Measuring Irregularities in South Africa’s Asylum System” comes as SA grapples with xenophobic violence, incoherent changes to the country’s immigration policies and dubious attempts by  various spheres of government to address these issues.

The urgent high court application to interdict the government from continuing with Operation Fiela-Reclaim raids unless legislative provisions are adhered to has been removed from the urgent roll in the high court in Pretoria.

Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR) brought the challenge in light of grave concerns around the legality of Operation Fiela-Reclaim - a joint operation conducted by the police, army and department of home affairs.  Specifically, LHR views the decision to implement raids in the early hours of the morning, in “cordoned off” areas with the army and Department of Home Affairs (and without the warrants required by legislation) as blatantly unlawful. The raids also appear to target non-nationals despite claims to the contrary.

Attached are the court documents for the case from all parties:


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