Croatia

Croatia is State party to two of the core statelessness instruments, the 1954 Convention and the 1961 Convention, but it has not acceded to the relevant Council of Europe conventions. Some limited data is available on the stateless population in Croatia, but figures are mostly out of date or estimates. There is a definition of a stateless person in Croatian law, but there is no dedicated procedure to determine statelessness and grant stateless people adequate protection under the 1954 Convention. Statelessness may be identified and assessed on an ad hoc basis within other procedures, but no rights are granted based on statelessness, except for a travel document, and there is no facilitated route to naturalisation for stateless people in Croatia.

There are some limited protections against the arbitrary detention of stateless people, but NGOs report widespread detention at the border without adequate due process or individual assessments. There are some safeguards to prevent and reduce statelessness in Croatian law, but these are not in line with 1961 Convention standards, and there are important gaps. Although there is a partial safeguard to prevent statelessness for some children born stateless in Croatia, authorities do not apply it in practice. The law provides that all children born in Croatia are registered at birth, but there are discriminatory practices, which create obstacles for some children. There are no legal provisions for the deprivation of nationality that permit a person to be rendered stateless, but some cases have been reported in practice, which resulted in statelessness.

Last updated: 
Mar 2021
Next scheduled update: 
Mar 2022
Country expert(s): 

Nataša Kovačević, Information Legal Centre

Additional resources

ASSESSMENT KEY

++POSITIVE
+ SOMEWHAT POSITIVE
+-POSITIVE and NEGATIVE
- SOMEWHAT NEGATIVE
--NEGATIVE

ADDITIONAL INFO

-NORMS & GOOD PRACTICE

 

International and Regional Instruments

Assesses whether countries are State party to the relevant international and regional instruments, including whether reservations have an impact on statelessness, and whether instruments are incorporated into domestic law. The four core statelessness treaties (1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons; 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness; European Convention on Nationality; Council of Europe Convention on the Avoidance of Statelessness in Relation to State Succession) carry more weight than other relevant human rights instruments in the assessment.

Croatia is State party to two of the core statelessness instruments: the 1954 Convention and the 1961 Convention. It did not enter any reservations to the Conventions, and both have direct effect in domestic law. Croatia has signed but not acceded to the European Convention on Nationality, and it is not State party to the Council of Europe Convention on the Avoidance of Statelessness in Relation to State Succession. Croatia is party to all other relevant international and regional instruments except for the Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers and their Families.

  • Croatia is State party to the 1954 Convention with no reservations and the Convention has direct effect.
  • Croatia is State party to the 1961 Convention with no reservations and the Convention has direct effect.
  • Croatia has signed but not acceded to the European Convention on Nationality, and it is not State party to the Council of Europe Convention on the Avoidance of Statelessness in Relation to State Succession.
  • Croatia is bound by the EU Returns Directive, and State party to all other relevant international instruments without reservations except for the Convention on Migrant Workers, to which it is not State party.

Statelessness Population Data

Examines the availability and sources of disaggregated population data on statelessness. Provides recent figures and assesses reliability of measures countries have in place to count stateless persons, including in the census, population registries, and migration databases. Notes whether statelessness has been mapped in the country and whether there are sufficient measures in place to count stateless persons in detention.

Some limited data and estimates are available for the stateless population in Croatia. The last census in 2011 included the categories ‘stateless’ and ‘unknown citizenship’ disaggregated by place of residence, birth, and ethnicity, but these categories were not defined in the census methodology and the data is now out of date. Some limited data on stateless asylum seekers is published by the Croatian authorities. UNHCR has carried out mapping studies of statelessness in Croatia and estimates the population under its statelessness mandate in the country to number 2,886 people. Studies have also estimated the number of Romani people at risk of statelessness in the country. No information is published on the number of stateless people held or released from immigration detention in Croatia.

  • The last population census in 2011 included a category 'stateless' which was disaggregated by place of residence, place of birth (in Croatia or abroad), and ethnicity. According to the census, in 2011 there were 749 stateless people and 2,137 people with ‘unknown citizenship’ in Croatia. 37% of those who identified as ‘stateless’ in 2011 were born in Croatia, and 44% had lived in Croatia since birth. Most of those who identified themselves as having ‘unknown citizenship’ originated from countries of the former Yugoslavia.
  • The terms ‘stateless’ and ‘unknown citizenship’ were not defined in the methodology of the 2011 census, and the data is now out of date.
  • UNHCR published an analysis of the legal framework concerning stateless persons and persons at risk of statelessness in Croatia in 2020 and estimates there to be 2,886 people under its statelessness mandate in Croatia.
  • Recent studies have also analysed data on the Roma population, concluding that an estimated 500 to 1,500 Romani people remain with ‘unresolved legal status’ in Croatia. Another study estimated that 500 Romani people are stateless and 1,000 are at risk of statelessness.
  • The Croatian Government collects data on stateless asylum-seekers. In June 2020, it recorded one stateless person among a total of 795 asylum-seekers in the country.
  • The Government maintains internal records on the number of stateless people held in detention centres, but this data is not published. The Ministry of Interior publishes annual ‘basic safety indicators’, which includes the nationality of people held in immigration detention, but there are no published records on stateless people held in or released from immigration detention.

Statelessness Determination and Status

Identifies whether countries have a definition of a stateless person in national law that aligns with the 1954 Convention, and whether they have a dedicated statelessness determination procedure (SDP) leading to a dedicated stateless status. If an SDP is not place, it assesses whether there are other procedures in which statelessness can be identified or other routes through which stateless people could regularise their stay or access their rights. Countries are subdivided in three groups to enable comparison between those with an SDP leading to protection, those with other procedures, and those with a stateless status but no clear mechanism to access protection. The existing procedures and rights granted to stateless persons are examined and assessed against international norms and good practice.

There is a definition of a stateless person in Croatian law, but there is no dedicated procedure to determine statelessness and grant stateless people the rights and protection they are due under the 1954 Convention. Statelessness may be identified and assessed on an ad hoc basis during asylum, residence permit, or naturalisation applications, but there is no guidance for decision-makers, nor information for applicants on how to make a claim of statelessness. No rights are granted to stateless people based on statelessness, except for the right to a travel document. Other rights are granted depending on the type of residence permit held. Until January 2021, people with a temporary residence permit were unable to access any rights, but under the new Foreigners Act holders of temporary residence on humanitarian grounds are entitled to education, vocational training, and have the right to work. The new law also facilitates access to long-term or permanent residence for stateless people by removing the requirement to present a valid travel document. However, there is no facilitated route to naturalisation for stateless people in Croatia, and standard eligibility requirements include at least eight years’ continuous permanent residence, and language and integration tests.

  • Article 3 of the Foreigners Act provides a definition of a stateless person.
  • The official English translation of the Act previously in force states ‘a stateless person means a person who is not considered to be a citizen by any state under its national legislation’, which is narrower than the 1954 Convention definition.
  • However, according to experts, the definition in the original Croatian version of the Act is in line with the 1954 Convention.
  • UNHCR organises annual formal training on statelessness for representatives of the Ministry of Interior (three sessions are planned for 2021). There is no information on other organised, formal training on statelessness for government bodies or the judiciary.
  • UNHCR Croatia, together with the Red Cross and the Ministry of Interior, also organises annual conferences on international protection and statelessness for government bodies, judges, and lawyers.
  • There is no dedicated Statelessness Determination Procedure leading to a dedicated stateless status in Croatia, but there are other procedures in which statelessness can be identified.
  • There is no formal procedure for the determination of statelessness in Croatia.
  • Statelessness is assessed ad-hoc upon submission of an application for asylum, a residence permit, or Croatian citizenship.
  • The Ministry of Interior (MoI) considers all relevant facts and may request a document from the country of origin to verify that the individual is not a national of that country (except in asylum proceedings).
  • If it is determined during a procedure that an applicant is stateless, they will be considered as a stateless person for the purposes of that procedure.
  • The Ministry of the Interior (MOI) is the competent authority for asylum, residence, and citizenship applications.
  • Statelessness is assessed on an ad hoc basis. There are no clear, accessible instructions for stateless people on how to claim their rights under the 1954 Convention and be identified as stateless.
  • If a claim of statelessness is made within another procedure, all relevant elements of the application will be assessed by the MOI, including the applicant’s statements and all documentation at the applicant’s disposal.
  • There is little cooperation between relevant government agencies who may encounter stateless people.
  • The burden of proof is primarily placed on the applicant, although the competent authority also shares the burden of proof where it concerns official information that is easily available.
  • The standard of proof to evidence statelessness is not established in law.
  • There is no clear guidance for authorities on how to identify or determine statelessness.
  • The Free Legal Aid Act does not explicitly mention stateless people. There is a right to free legal aid for people in certain circumstances, including unaccompanied children, asylum seekers, people subject to deportation or return proceedings, and holders of a permanent residence permit.
  • People with a temporary residence permit in Croatia have the right to free legal aid only under the condition of reciprocity (i.e., if their country of origin offers legal aid to Croatian citizens). As stateless people cannot meet this condition, they cannot access free legal aid if they hold a temporary residence permit.
  • Stateless people can claim their statelessness in an interview during an application for temporary residence at the local police department and during international protection procedures.
  • Free interpreting is only available in international protection procedures.
  • Decisions are given in writing according to general rules of administrative procedure.
  • Stateless people are not granted any rights based on being identified as stateless, except for a travel document. Any other rights are granted based on the type of residence permit (i.e., temporary, long-term, or permanent residence) or international protection status held.
  • According to the previous Foreigners Act, people with a temporary residence permit were unable to access any rights and had to pay to access healthcare even in emergency situations. Children were only able to enrol in primary education. Under the new Foreigners Act, which came into force on 1 January 2021, if a stateless person is granted temporary residence on humanitarian grounds, they are entitled to education, study, vocational training, and the right to work without a permit. They do not have access to free healthcare.
  • After five consecutive years, a person with temporary residence can be granted a long-term residence permit, and after three, or in some cases four, consecutive years, a person with temporary residence can be granted a permanent residence permit.
  • Stateless people with a long-term or permanent residence permit have access to a broad range of rights including the right to work, education, social security, healthcare, pension insurance, and maternity and parental support.
  • Permanent residence was previously very difficult for stateless people to access as they had to submit a valid travel document. Other requirements included evidence of sufficient funds, adequate lodging, and health insurance. However, under the new Foreigners Act, a valid foreign travel document is no longer a condition for obtaining long-term and permanent residence for stateless persons. It remains to be seen how this will be implemented in practice.
  • Stateless people with any residence permit are entitled to family reunification; however, there are restrictions for people with a temporary residence permit.
  • Stateless people do not have the right to vote in Croatia.
  • There is no facilitated route to naturalisation for stateless people in Croatia.
  • In theory, stateless people may acquire Croatian citizenship under general conditions, which include a requirement of at least eight years’ continuous permanent residence, knowledge of the Croatian language and Latin alphabet, Croatian culture, and social system. The applicant must also respect the legal order and customs, and must not pose any security threat. There is a fee of 1,050 HRK (approximately 140 EUR).
  • The inability of most stateless people to present a valid travel document to secure permanent residence has been a barrier to acquiring nationality in practice. Under the new Foreigners Act, as of 1 January 2021, a valid foreign travel document is no longer a condition for obtaining long-term residence. It remains to be seen how this will be implemented in practice and whether this will facilitate access to naturalisation for stateless people in Croatia.

Detention

Analyses law, policy and practice relating to immigration detention generally, but focusing on protections in place to prevent the arbitrary detention of stateless people during removal and deportation procedures. Subthemes examine areas such as detention decision-making, how alternatives to detention are legislated for and implemented, procedural safeguards such as time limits, judicial oversight, and effective remedies, as well as protections on release.

There are limited protections against the arbitrary detention of stateless people in Croatia. A proposed country of removal must be identified in return decisions, and the law establishes that detention for the purposes of removal can only take place if removal cannot be ensured through more lenient measures. However, Croatian law does not consider statelessness as a factor increasing vulnerability and procedural safeguards are limited. NGOs have reported widespread detention at the border without access to basic facilities and routes to protection; and asylum seekers are frequently arrested and detained without due process, individual assessments, or the right to appeal. The law does not protect people from re-detention and there are no provisions to ensure cumulative time spent in detention counts towards the maximum time limit.

  • Immigration detention powers are provided in the Foreigners Act and the International and Temporary Protection Act. The Croatian legal system accepts the restrictions listed under the ECHR 5(1)(f) in Article 130 of the Foreigners Act, which sets out the conditions for immigration detention.
  • A proposed country of removal must be identified in the return decision, and each case takes into consideration the principle of ‘non-refoulement’.
  • By law, detention for the purposes of removal can only take place if removal cannot be ensured through more lenient measures. It may only last for the shortest time necessary, while removal proceedings are in progress, and must be carried out with due care. The Foreigners Act specifies that restriction of freedom of movement is an exception.
  • Croatian law does not consider statelessness as a factor increasing vulnerability.
  • By law, detention for the purposes of removal can only take place if this cannot be ensured through more lenient measures (defined as deposit of travel tickets and/or documents, deposit of financial resources, ban on leaving a certain address, and reporting to the police).
  • However, NGOs have reported that in practice, asylum seekers are frequently arrested and detained without due process, individual assessments, or the right to appeal their transfer or deportation decision.
  • According to the Foreigners Act, preliminary detention can last up to three months, while regular detention can be ordered for up to six months. Detention may then be extended by a further 12 months in certain circumstances.
  • In practice, asylum seekers are informed orally about the reasons for their detention and an interpreter reads the decision to them. The law requires police officers to provide information about international protection procedures and the MOI should inform people in writing of their rights and obligations.
  • Inspections can be carried out on request but there are no regular periodic reviews of conditions nor the legality of detention. According to the Ombudsperson, the MOI has unlawfully prevented access to information about the treatment of people with irregular immigration status in Croatia and there are reports of vulnerable people being detained at the border without access to basic facilities or asylum procedures.
  • The scope of appeal rights is narrowed in administrative procedures involving detention. Detention decisions can be appealed to a second-instance administrative body, and a dispute may then be initiated before an administrative court. It is not possible to reopen proceedings or submit new evidence after removal proceedings have been completed.
  • The Croatian authorities may contact the Consular Services of a State of previous residence, but there are no rules governing the process of redocumentation.
  • Free legal aid is available to people in detention, but there are practical challenges in finding interpreters and appropriate legal assistance.
  • People released from detention should be issued with a temporary identity card but have very limited rights. The duration of temporary documents varies, and they may be renewed.
  • The law does not protect people from re-detention and there are no provisions to ensure that cumulative time spent in detention counts towards the maximum time limit.
  • There is no evidence that statelessness is considered juridically relevant in the context of return and readmission agreements.
  • Croatia has concluded several bilateral agreements (with North Macedonia, Slovakia, Germany, Lithuania, Greece, the Czech Republic, Norway, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Turkey, Bulgaria, and Albania), which do not refer to stateless people or statelessness.

Prevention and Reduction

Assesses the adequacy of safeguards in nationality laws to prevent and reduce statelessness, including protections for otherwise stateless children born on the territory or to nationals abroad, foundlings and adopted children. Examines law, policy, and practice on birth registration, including access to late birth registration, reduction measures taken by states to prevent and reduce statelessness among groups at high risk, and provisions for the deprivation of nationality.

There are some legal safeguards to prevent and reduce statelessness in Croatia, but these are not aligned with international law and there are gaps in both law and practice. Although there is a partial safeguard to prevent statelessness for some children born in Croatia, it is not automatic, and the authorities do not apply it in practice. There are also partial safeguards to prevent statelessness in the case of foundlings, children born abroad, and in adoption proceedings. By law, all children born in Croatia are registered at birth, but there are discriminatory practices, which create obstacles for some children. The Croatian Government has made past commitments to addressing statelessness through its National Roma Inclusion Strategy and initiatives such as the Zagreb Declaration, but little recent progress or concrete action has been taken. There are no provisions for the deprivation of Croatian citizenship that permit statelessness, but in practice some cases have been reported that resulted in statelessness.

  • According to the Citizenship Act, a person born stateless in Croatia is entitled to acquire Croatian citizenship if both parents are unknown, of unknown citizenship, or stateless; although the child’s citizenship may be withdrawn by the age of 14 if it is established that both parents are nationals of a foreign country.
  • The provision is not automatic and requires an application to a local registry office. There is also an age limit of 18 years old.
  • The legal safeguard is not in line with the 1961 Convention due to both the age limit and the fact that it does not prevent statelessness in all cases (for example, children born to refugees or a single mother who cannot confer their nationality).
  • Moreover, the Croatian authorities do not apply the safeguard in practice. Children born stateless are considered as ‘foreign nationals’ and required to naturalise under the ordinary naturalisation procedure based on eight years of permanent residence on the territory.
  • Prior to the most recent amendments to the Foreigners Act, stateless children have been unable to fulfil the requirements for permanent residence as a prerequisite for naturalisation, and therefore, in practice, have been unable to acquire Croatian citizenship. As of 1 January 2021, the requirement to present a valid foreign travel document as a condition for permanent residence has been removed, so, in theory, it should be possible for stateless children to eventually acquire permanent residence and become eligible for naturalisation, but this is not in line with international norms on the right of every child to acquire a nationality soon after birth.
  • The Citizenship Act provides a non-automatic safeguard to prevent statelessness in the case of foundlings. A procedure must be initiated through the local Centre for Social Welfare for a foundling to acquire Croatian citizenship.
  • The law refers to a 'child', which is interpreted as applying to any child under the age of 18.
  • Croatian citizenship can be withdrawn from foundlings if by the age of 14 if it is established that both parents are foreign nationals.
  • An adopted child can renounce Croatian citizenship upon request by the parents. Croatian authorities request confirmation that the child has acquired another nationality before withdrawing Croatian citizenship.
  • A foreign child adopted by Croatian parents acquires Croatian citizenship, provided that the child has not reached the age of 18. There is generally no risk of statelessness.
  • Children born to nationals abroad acquire Croatian citizenship by descent if both parents are nationals. A child born abroad, to a parent who is a Croatian citizen, acquires Croatian citizenship if they would otherwise be stateless.
  • If one parent is a citizen, the child must be registered as a Croatian citizen either at the Croatian Embassy abroad or at a Registry Office in Croatia.
  • The Citizenship Act distinguishes between certain groups of people who left the territory of the Republic of Croatia before and after 8 October 1991 for the purpose of facilitated acquisition of citizenship. The facilitated procedure applies only to those who left before 8 October 1991 and excludes those who left for other countries of the former Yugoslavia (and their descendants).
  • All children born in Croatia are registered at birth. However, if the parents are undocumented, birth certificates will be issued but not completed.
  • Registration is automatic if a child is born at a hospital. If a child is born outside of hospital, parents have 15 days to register the birth. If the parents fail to do so, the Centre for Social Welfare may decide to issue a supervision order.
  • If the parents are foreigners, they must submit a request for temporary or permanent residence for their newborn child within 30 days.
  • The child's nationality is determined and recorded upon birth if the child fulfils the conditions outlined in the Citizenship Act (including that at least one parent is a Croatian citizen). If the child does not fulfil these conditions, the ‘citizenship’ field is left blank. If the nationality of the parents is known, then the child will be recorded as having the same nationality as the parents.
  • There is no legal framework to determine a child's nationality at a later stage.
  • There are no official mandatory reporting requirements but, in practice, all state institutions and bodies report undocumented people to the police.
  • The procedure for late birth registration imposes additional requirements including the payment of administrative fees, as well as fees for obtaining the necessary documents to submit the request for late birth registration. Supporting documents required include all personal and other related documents of both parents. In some cases, court proceedings may be necessary for late birth registration. The administrative fee for one document is approximately 3 EUR, and the court fees are approximately 150 EUR per case.
  • The Croatian Government does not have any current programmes to promote civil registration.
  • According to the 2011 census, there were 16,975 Roma in Croatia in 2011. However, it is estimated that the actual number is three times higher. In its 2018 report, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance estimated that there were at least 500 stateless Roma and at least 100 Romani people at risk of statelessness in Croatia.
  • The Government signed the Zagreb Declaration on 27 October 2011.
  • The Government adopted a National Roma Inclusion Strategy for 2013 to 2020 and corresponding Action Plans. The Strategy envisaged forming mobile teams and multi-sector information centres with representatives from different government agencies and civil society to support access to civil documentation and proof of citizenship, but the independent evaluation of the strategy indicated that measures were not fully adopted as intended, and were insufficient.
  • There are no explicit provisions on deprivation of nationality in Croatian law that could render a person stateless, but there have been cases in practice. There is anecdotal evidence of families, including children, being ex officio erased from the Croatian Citizenship Registry Books, rendering them stateless.
  • There are no provisions on deprivation of nationality in a nationality security context.
  • A person who renounced their Croatian citizenship may reacquire it if it is shown that they did not acquire another nationality.
  • The competent authorities for citizenship matters are the Ministry of Interior, Registry Offices, and relevant local administrative bodies. Individuals may appeal decisions and initiate administrative procedures, but stateless people do not have a right to free legal aid. According to the Administrative Procedure Act, administrative procedures may last up to 30 or 60 days; however, these deadlines are rarely respected.

Resources

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