Our Director’s blogpost for the European Network on Statelessness

“In 2015 award-winning Greg Constantine visited Malta as part of his photographic journey around Europe, documenting the lives of detained stateless persons.

He spent much of his time with our client and friend, Alexander: a young man from Sierra Leone who, having entered Malta in an irregular manner, was detained for over one year under a regime that has since been repeatedly found by the European Court of Human Rights to be arbitrary and illegal.

When Sierra Leone’s consular representatives insisted Alexander was not Sierra Leonian, he became stateless. With no formal legal status, he had no documents, no rights, no identity and no place to call home.”

You can read Neil’s full post here.

Report: How European countries can stop people without nationality being locked up in limbo

A report published today (4 May) by the European Network on Statelessness (ENS) on the use of immigration detention warns that stateless people are often detained for months and even years, without any real prospect of their cases being resolved.

This is because immigration systems do not have appropriate procedures in place to identify those who are left without nationality and to protect stateless people.

The report calls on European governments to reform their immigration and detention systems to comply with their international human rights obligations and end the arbitrary detention of stateless people.

States need to put in place procedures to identify people without nationality so that they don’t end up locked up in limbo.

Chris Nash, Director of the European Network on Statelessness said:

“Across Europe a failure by states to put in place effective systems to identify stateless people leaves them exposed to repeated and prolonged detention.

These men, women and children fall between the cracks, because no country will recognise them as nationals.

This is preventable, and today we are publishing a clear agenda for change which will help end this travesty.”

Angela Li Rosi, Deputy Director of UNHCR Bureau for Europe said:

“Stateless persons across Europe risk serious violations of their right to liberty and security of person.

They can face repeated and prolonged detention not because they committed a crime but because they are not allowed to stay in the country.

They are told they don’t belong anywhere. Their children are invisible, their families do not exist. UNHCR will continue to work with ENS to support States in ending this human suffering in Europe.”

A statement signed by civil society organisations and leading lawyers and academics from over 30 European countries will be sent to governments highlighting that consensus is building in Europe that the current use of immigration detention is unsustainable, harmful, and, in many cases, unlawful.


“The documents I do have tell me I’m of ‘unknown nationality’. Officially I still don’t exist”

Angela is an ethnic Armenian from Azerbaijan. She fled to the Netherlands seeking asylum with her family in her early teens, but they were refused protection. Countless efforts to obtain new travel documents failed and both Armenia and Azerbaijan refused to facilitate their return. Angela was detained in 2012 during an attempt to forcibly remove her family, which had a huge emotional impact on her. A court ruled her detention unlawful and suspended forced return, but this did not end her limbo.

“Why did they hold me for seven years and gave me nothing?”

Anton is a stateless person from the former Soviet Union who was held in immigration detention in Bulgaria from 2005 to 2012. During this time, he was told he would be forcibly removed, but was never given any details about how and when. Anton remained in detention for seven years because the only alternative to detention in Bulgarian law could not be applied as he had no registered address. He was finally released after an intervention by the UN and now lives as an undocumented migrant.

“Detention made my mental health worse. It started when I got into detention. There they do not care if you cry.”

Muhammed is a Sahrawi in his late thirties who came to the UK as a minor. He was refused asylum and has been detained several times for a total of nearly four of the last eighteen years. His statelessness application was refused because he has a past criminal offence. Muhammed suffers from mental health issues. In 2015-2016, he spent fifteen months in detention despite the authorities accepting that he was Sahrawi and therefore had no prospects of removal.

“Immigration detention is far far worse than prison because there is no time limit.”

Okeke is in his thirties and has always lived in the UK. He was probably born there although he has no birth certificate. He believes that his parents are British but he lost contact with them as a teenager after fleeing years of domestic abuse. Okeke has faced a life of destitution and isolation due to his lack of documents and the abuse he suffered as a child. After a criminal conviction for theft, he was sent to immigration detention subject to a deportation order. Despite being classified as a person of ‘unknown nationality’, the UK attempted to deport him to Nigeria on the basis that he has a Nigerian name.


For media enquiries please call ENS Head of Communications Jan Brulc on 07522 525673 or email [email protected]

  • The European Network on Statelessness (ENS) is a civil society alliance with over 100 members in 40 countries. It is committed to ending statelessness and ensuring that the estimated 600,000 people living in Europe without a nationality are protected under international law.
  • ENS has prepared a statement signed by over 65 civil society organisations, academic and leading legal experts working on the issue. The statement will be sent to government representatives and other main stakeholders across Europe to highlight the agenda for change on how to solve the issue of arbitrary detention.
  • ENS is undertaking a 3 year project aimed at better understanding the extent and consequences of the detention of stateless persons in Europe, and advocating for an end to arbitrary detention of stateless people.
  • New report “Protecting Stateless Persons from Arbitrary Detention: An Agenda for Change” will be available on the ENS website from 4 May onwards http://www.statelessness.eu/resources/protecting-stateless-persons-arbitrary-detention-agenda-change For embargoed copy please email [email protected]ess.eu
  • The report launch will take place in Budapest on 4 May as part of a two day pan-regional conference, with contributions by UNHCR Europe Bureau deputy director Angela Li Rosi, Member of the European Parliament Jean Lambert, Member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe Manlio di Stefano and award-winning photographer Greg Constantine. Full agenda available online statelessness.eu/news-events/news/conference-registration-protecting-stateless-persons-arbitrary-detention-4-5-may

CONFERENCE REGISTRATION: “Protecting Stateless Persons from Arbitrary Detention”


On 4-5 May 2017, the European Network on Statelessness will hold a major conference in Budapest to launch a new comparative report as well as to provide a platform for concerted region-wide advocacy aimed at protecting stateless persons from arbitrary detention.

The conference is intended to facilitate the sharing of information among stakeholders from across Europe – including lawyers, NGOs and academics as well as representatives from governments, inter-governmental-organisations, ombudspersons/monitoring bodies and other stakeholders mandated to work on issues related to immigration detention.

aditus foundation is a member of the European Network on Statelessness, having also researched and drafted the report on the risk of arbitrary detention for stateless persons in Malta. Our Director will be attending the conference, moderating one of the workshops.

You can find out more about the event and register online here. Registration deadline is 15 March.

The release of 9 detained Malians is a human rights victory!

We welcome the announcement that the nine Malian men detained for three months will finally be released.

The Minister for Home Affairs and National Security confirmed that difficulties obtaining documentation from Mali was impeding the men’s deportation, possibly for an indefinite period. Human rights, EU and Maltese law only allow States to detain migrants prior to their removal when the removal is actually being pursued with due diligence. The nine men’s on-going detention was therefore not in compliance with applicable norms, and that is we demanded their immediate release.

We look forward to further engagement with the Ministry for Home Affairs and National Security to explore ways of ensuring a national migration framework that truly upholds human rights principles.

The undersigned NGOs would like to express their sincere thanks to all supporters of this gruelling campaign, especially the media organisations that joined forces for this initiative.

Press Release of:

aditus foundation, African Media Association, The Critical Institute, Integra Foundation, International Association for Refugees, JRS Malta, KOPIN, Malta Emigrants’ Commission, Migrant Women Association Malta, Migrant Network for Equality, Moviment Graffitti, Organisation for Friendship in Diversity, People for Change Foundation, Solidarity with Migrants group, SOS Malta, Spark15.

Joint letter to the Prime Minister regarding the on-going detention of 9 men

Hon. Prime Minister,

We the undersigned NGOs, all of whom are actively involved in the field of migration, are writing this open letter to express our grave concern about the situation of the nine Malian nationals who are currently in detention supposedly awaiting to be returned to Mali.

We firmly believe that their continued detention is unlawful, for all of the reasons outlined below, and we call upon the government to release them from detention immediately.

 All nine have been in detention since November 14, 2016, after they were apprehended with a view to deportation when they went to the Immigration Office to extend their stay in Malta, as they were required to do.

According to information provided by government spokespersons, all nine were positively identified as Malian nationals, albeit only verbally, by the delegation from Mali that visited Malta on the 6th and 7th December to conduct interviews for the purpose of identification.

In spite of this, to date, over 2 months after their visit, the Malian authorities have not yet issued the documents required for repatriation to take place. It is therefore clearly impossible for the Maltese authorities to affect the removal of these individuals, at least in the near future.

EU and national law clearly state that a government’s power to detain migrants for the purposes of removal is not absolute. Detention should only be used as a measure of last resort, where it is strictly necessary and where it is not possible to use other less coercive measure to effect return, particularly because of a risk of absconding or lack of cooperation on the part of the individual concerned.

Further, the law clearly states that detention should be for the shortest time possible and, where removal cannot take place due to legal or other considerations, the individual concerned should be immediately released. These legal requirements are also clearly included in the right to liberty protect in Article 5 of the European Convention of Human Rights.

In our view these legal provisions raise serious questions about the lawfulness of the ongoing detention of these nine men, especially in the light of the conditions in which they are detained.

We also wish to underline that these nine individuals have always abided by the law: they were honest about their nationality from the day they were apprehended by the Immigration Police, they did not apply for asylum elsewhere, and they reported regularly to the immigration authorities as they were required to do in order to extend their stay. In the circumstances, we believe that it is indeed difficult to argue that it is not possible to use less coercive measures in order to affect their removal.

Ultimately, the above-mentioned legal provisions clearly require government to demonstrate that individual assessments have been undertaken in order to reach the conclusion that detention is, in fact and in law, both necessary and proportionate. It is not clear whether such individual assessments have been carried out in this present context, raising further questions as to its compliance with human rights, EU and national law.

Together with the legality or otherwise of this continued detention, we believe that it is an affront to human dignity to treat in this way law-abiding persons who have lived in our midst for several years and contributed to our society. They have done nothing to deserve to be treated like criminals, deprived of their liberty in difficult conditions and carted around in handcuffs, portraying them as posing a great danger to our society.

While we acknowledge that the State has the right to affect the removal of those who have no legal permission to stay, we strongly underline this must be done in a way that respects the fundamental dignity of each individual.

Achieving what is possibly a legitimate end in any other way undermines not only the humanity of the individuals directly impacted, but also our own.

We therefore reiterate our request for the immediate release of the nine Malians currently held in detention.

Letter sent by the following NGOs:

aditus foundation, African Media Association, The Critical Institute, Integra Foundation, International Association for Refugees, JRS Malta, KOPIN, Malta Emigrants’ Commission, Migrant Women Association Malta, Migrant Network for Equality, Moviment Graffitti, Organisation for Friendship in Diversity, People for Change Foundation, SOS Malta, Spark15.

Background Note

On 14 November 2016 and the days following, some 33 Malian migrants were apprehended by the immigration authorities as they went to the Central Immigration Office to extend their stay in Malta.

All were adult men who had arrived in Malta by boat from Libya between 2007 and 2015. All had been issued with a Removal Order within days of their arrival and had subsequently applied for asylum. All had their asylum applications rejected. All spent some time in detention following their arrival in Malta – the duration of their detention varies but most spent between 12 or 18 months in detention.

Following their release from detention all enjoyed tolerated stay – this means that, although they were still subject to a removal order and therefore still considered ‘prohibited’ immigrants in term of the Immigration Act, the immigration authorities granted them temporary permission to stay until removal could be effected in terms of law.

All of them worked, most of them regularly. Those who worked regularly paid tax and national insurance contributions.

On the 6 and 7 December 2016 a delegation from Mali visited the detainees for the purposes of identification, with a view to issuing the documentation required for repatriation. In the days that followed the visit it emerged that only 10 of the individuals in detention were positively identified as Malian nationals by the delegation, and this only verbally.

One of these 10 was released from detention on 23 December, following a decision of the Court of Magistrates (dated 22 December) declaring his detention unlawful.

The 15 migrants about whose identity doubts were expressed were also released from detention on 23 December.

There are currently 9 men left in detention, supposedly pending deportation. In the week before Christmas, they instituted legal proceedings before the Constitutional Court challenging, among other things, the lawfulness of their detention. Their lawyer also asked to court to release them from detention pending the outcome of the proceedings, however this was refused on 4 January 2017.

The case is currently on-going.