POLICY NOTE: Refugees from Ukraine: stateless
persons and persons at risk of being stateless.
Most important challenges
21 November 2022
HNLAC is a non-governmental organization registered in Poland, operating since 2002. HNLAC’s main
objective is to protect human rights by providing free legal council to persons at risk of social
exclusion and discrimination, including foreigners, asylum seekers, refugees and stateless persons.
HNLAC is acting as UNHCR implementing partner in Poland. Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine
HNLAC is a part of the Open Kraków Coalition working to promote the rights of Ukrainian refugees in
HNLAC’s work for stateless persons:
HNLAC is acting as UNHCR implementing partner in Poland and is a member of the European
Network on Statelessness. Both UNHCR and ENS mandate covers protecting stateless persons rights.
Apart from providing free legal aid, HNLAC published reports and mapping studies concerning
stateless persons in Poland. Being an active member of ENS and its Advisory Committee HNLAC
engages in awareness raising and advocacy concerning rights of stateless persons.
HNLAC’s work for Ukrainian refugees, including minors:
Since the beginning of the war, HNLAC provides free legal aid for refugees coming from Ukraine,
including stateless persons, via 13 legal info points in Kraków, Rybnik, Wrocław, Poznań and Lublin.
The HNLAC also operates a dedicated helpline for refugees from Ukraine and a special number for
cases related to children. Additionally, HNLAC is working closely with a group of dedicated legal
advisors and attorneys providing free legal assistance in cases requiring appointment of a temporary
legal guardian for unaccompanied and separated minors. HNLAC prepared a draft of a standard
procedure on dealing with unaccompanied minors and their protection needs, which was presented
to the local authorities.
Stateless persons fleeing from Ukraine – access to protection
According to information published by the European Network on Statelessness: The last census in
Ukraine recorded 82,550 stateless people, and in 2021 UNHCR estimated there to be at least 35,000
stateless and people with ‘undetermined nationality’. Other sources suggest there could be many tens
of thousands more, including a significant proportion of the Roma population as well as children born
in Crimea, Luhansk and Donetsk since 20141.
The Polish law differentiates between Ukrainian nationals and their spouses and other persons
fleeing Ukraine. The former have wide access to rights based on the Law on helping Ukrainian
citizens fleeing armed conflict. Stateless persons fleeing Ukraine may not benefit from the said law,
but may register with the Head of the Office for Foreigners to receive temporary protection.
In Poland there is no statelessness determination procedure in place, therefore a stateless person
may have difficulties in proving their status and showing they actually are stateless.
At the same time, in Ukraine statelessness determination procedure was introduced relatively
recently and not many people had the possibility to apply for stateless person’s status in Ukraine.
Points of concern:
If a stateless person applies for temporary protection in Poland but has no official document proving
they are indeed stateless, they may have problems with accessing protection and rights that go with
it. In Poland there is no legal procedure where a stateless person may prove they are indeed
Stateless determination procedure has to be established, so that stateless persons access to
protection is effectively guaranteed.
Unaccompanied and separated minors – stateless or at risk of being stateless.
Identification and protection concerns.
Since the beginning of the war, as the main concern was safety and security of Ukrainian people,
many Ukrainian children may have entered Poland without a passport or other document confirming
their identity and descent. Some of them may have entered only with birth certificates or even
without any documents indicating their identity and nationality.
There is a register of unaccompanied minors from Ukraine run by the Ministry of Family and Social
Policy. There is no obligatory registration system for Ukrainian nationals, including separated minors.
Many of them register with PESEL database. Registration with PESEL database was and is possible
based not only on official documents but also based on their copies or – in lack of thereof – even oral
statements. There is no full legal verification of nationality in case of PESEL database registration.
In case of separated minors a factual guardian (not yet legally appointed) can register a child with
Factual guardians of separated minors may be appointed by the court as their temporary legal
guardians in a simplified procedure. According to the accessible data, as of beginning of May 2022
Polish courts received 16335 applications to appoint a temporary legal guardian, 15.654 of which
were decided upon2.
Points of concern:
Some of the children may have entered Poland without a passport or other ID with a photograph. It
is crucial to identify them and establish their nationality as soon as possible, given the possible
difficulties with accessing Ukrainian databases and archives or even possible destruction of
databases or archives as a result of military operations. In that case a child may have problems with
confirming where they were born and to what parents, as a consequence with proving their
nationality, what may effectively render them stateless.
Some of the children that arrived from Ukraine may have been born in occupied territories. In case
they don’t possess a passport, establishing their nationality may be challenging, since Ukrainian
authorities currently may not have access to databases of births on the occupied territories or such
access may be hindered. Such children may thus be at risk of being stateless if Ukrainian authorities
will not be able to confirm their identity and/or nationality.
- It is recommended to identify children who may have challenges with proving their nationality
and thus be at risk of being stateless.
- It is recommended to establish a register of separated minors, which would include information
on types of ID documents they possess.
- It is recommended to gather data from the registry of unaccompanied minors with respect to
the type of ID documents they possess.
- It is important to inform temporary legal guardians to undertake necessary and possible steps to
establish child’s nationality, in case they lack necessary documents.
- It is important to raise this issue in dialogue with Ukrainian partners.
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