Migrant children from Iraq and Afghanistan at a center for migrants in Pirot, Serbia | Photo: EPA/DJORDJE SAVIC
Migrant children from Iraq and Afghanistan at a center for migrants in Pirot, Serbia | Photo: EPA/DJORDJE SAVIC

The UN agencies UNHCR and UNICEF have urged action to put an end to child statelessness in Europe. According to them, about 2,100 children were registered as stateless in 2017, a four-fold increase compared to 2010.

UNHCR and UNICEF have launched an appeal for governments and regional organizations to act urgently to ensure that no child is born or remains stateless in Europe. Estimates say that over half a million people are stateless in Europe. 

Given an increase in the number of asylum seekers under age 18 in Europe since 2010, with a peak in requests between 2015 and 2016, the number of those under age 18 identified as ''stateless'' has also risen. In 2017, about 2,100 children were registered as ''stateless,'' four times the number seen in 2010. 

Stateless children with rights limited 

Without citizenship, children have limited access to basic services, as well as education and healthcare assistance. The absence of official ID documents can expose minors to higher risks of falling victim to violence, abuse and trafficking, which puts them and their families at risk of ending up arrested and detained. 

"Life is stacked against a stateless child right from the start. Like all of us, they can dream, and they can hope, but the legal obstacles they face often mean their dreams are dashed before they are adults, and their potential is squandered," said Pascale Moreau, UNHCR's Director of the Bureau for Europe. 

There are three main categories of children who are affected the most: 

1. Children who are born stateless in Europe. These include children who cannot inherit their parents' nationality due to gender discrimination and gaps in nationality laws, as well as those who are stateless because their parents are stateless. 
2. Children born in Europe whose births are not registered, including children in vulnerable minority populations like the Roma. 
3. Children from countries with known stateless populations who come to Europe as refugees and asylum-seekers. 

Solutions proposed by UN agencies 

''Every child has the right to a name and a nationality," said Afshan Khan, UNICEF Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia, and Special Coordinator for the Refugee and Migrant Response in Europe. To better address child statelessness in Europe, UNICEF and UNHCR are proposing a series of low-cost, effective and sustainable solutions, including: 

1. Ensuring that every stateless refugee or migrant child is properly identified and protected upon arrival in Europe.
2. Simplifying procedures to enable stateless children to acquire a nationality as soon as possible.
3. Adopting or amending legislation to include safeguards granting nationality to all children born in a country who would otherwise be stateless. 

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