Statelessness in Poland is a widely overlooked problem, which is caused by the small number of persons without citizenship and lack of credible and comprehensive statistical information. There is no single prevailing ethnicity or common background for stateless people, which is another factor why they are mostly ignored and there are no systemic solutions and dedicated legal procedures for them. Cases of statelessness are scattered and isolated, often unidentified for years.
The most recent available data on stateless persons in Poland gathered through the Population Census is already outdated, as the census was carried out back in 2011. It provides a general perspective on the scope of the problem, but does not provide any meaningful additional information about this population. The census report quotes a considerably high number of over 8,000 persons of “unknown nationality” and 2,020 stateless persons.
A 2019 UNHCR and Halina Niec Legal Aid Center mapping study on statelessness in the country, resulted in a more detailed overview of the statelessness population. As of July 2020, statistics published by the Office for Foreigners put the total number of “stateless persons” and individuals of “unknown nationality” holding a valid residence permit at 382, of which 345 people were registered as stateless and 37 individuals were of ‘unknown nationality’. No information about the origin of these individuals is available.
Although the available statistics and other relevant sources of information (such as NGO reports and research reports) do not suggest that there is a widespread problem with child statelessness in Poland, still there are some gaps in the law and practice which may put some categories of children at risk of statelessness.
The risk of statelessness for children in the Polish context concerns primarily the case of children abandoned after birth, by parents/mother whose personal data have been recorded in the act of birth. As the premise of „unknown parents” cannot be applied in this situation, such a child could be recognized as a Polish citizen only in case the relevant authority would decide that the parents citizenship cannot be determined or that both parents are stateless. Practice shows, however, that the sole fact of declaring a given country as the country of origin by the parents/mother is usually seen as sufficient to regard the child as being at least entitled to the citizenship of that country. This reasoning is lacking in understanding the meaning of the notion of „citizenship” as well as the legal gravity of determining a child as a foreign national without any guarantees of that country acknowledging the child and guarding the rights of the child as the citizen.
It is recommended that the Act on Polish Citizenship be amended and aligned with the requirements in the 1961 Convention and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to prevent children from being born into statelessness. The necessary change concerns the introduction of a safeguard that all children born or found in Poland are granted Polish citizenship if they would otherwise be stateless.
As it has been repeatedly flagged by the HNLAC, adequate securing of rights of persons without citizenship including children requires the introduction of a stateless determination procedure and establishing a status for those without citizenship.
Stateless children and children at risk of statelessness, including migrant and refugee children should have facilitated access to naturalization procedures. In all procedures determining their citizenship and status, due caution should be made to consider whether the child may enjoy the given citizenship or is it merely a fictitious one.
Children of same-sex couples should be recognized as Polish citizens if any of their parents is Polish, without discrimination as to the homosexual nature of their union.
Read our Analysis on Child Statelessness in Poland here.