Positively, the Netherlands is party to most relevant international and regional instruments, but there are some gaps in its domestic legal framework to protect stateless people and prevent statelessness. The definition of a stateless person in Dutch law is narrower than the 1954 Convention, and without a statelessness determination procedure (SDP) or status, there is limited protection for stateless people in the country. Although a legislative procedure for an SDP is planned, currently statelessness can only be identified through other administrative procedures. If identified, legally residing stateless people may be granted a travel document and access to citizenship, but there is no route to protection for those without legal residence. Although the law contains some protections and safeguards against arbitrary detention, stateless people without legal residence are at risk of detention.

There are safeguards in Dutch nationality law to prevent statelessness in the case of foundlings and adopted children. However, the safeguard for children born stateless in the Netherlands is not automatic, requiring registration as stateless and three years’ legal residence, before a child can acquire citizenship. Children born to unmarried Dutch fathers abroad are also disadvantaged. The law provides for universal, immediate birth registration, but in practice, undocumented parents may struggle to meet documentation requirements and the procedure for late birth registration is very complex.

Last updated: 
Mar 2019
Next scheduled update: 
Mar 2020
Country expert(s): 

Marlotte van Dael, ASKV

Additional resources






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.

The Netherlands has a strong record on accession to the relevant human rights instruments. It is party to all four of the core statelessness conventions, although it does retain reservations to the 1954 Convention, it has committed to removing these. It is state party to all other relevant regional and international treaties, except for the Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers. Its reservations to the Convention on the Rights of Child do not directly impact on statelessness but may impact on stateless children in the country.

  • The Netherlands is party to the 1954 Convention and it has direct effect. It retains reservations to Articles 8 and 26, though it has committed to removing them.
  • The Netherlands is party to the 1961 Convention with no reservations and it has direct effect.
  • The Netherlands is party to most relevant international and regional conventions, though it retains some reservations.
  • For example, its reservation to Article 7 of the European Convention on Nationality impacts on childhood statelessness. Its reservations to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, including in relation to the right to legal representation, age of majority, and access to social security, do not directly affect statelessness but may affect stateless children in The Netherlands.
  • The Netherlands is not party to the Convention on the Rights of all Migrant Workers and Members of their Families.

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 effective measures in place to count stateless people in detention.

The Dutch national statistical database contains some data on the stateless population that is disaggregated, but due to inconsistencies in how nationality and statelessness is recorded and the lack of an effective mechanism to identify stateless people in the country, the size of the stateless population is very likely to be underreported. UNHCR reports government figures for the stateless population in the Netherlands, estimating there to be some 10,000 stateless people in the country. Mapping studies of statelessness have been undertaken by NGOs and UNHCR.

  • There are inconsistencies in how nationality and statelessness are recorded in the Dutch national statistical database (StatLine). The two categories 'stateless' and 'nationality unknown' are sometimes combined and sometimes reported on separately. Data in StatLine is disaggregated by age and sex and updated every two years. In 2017 the number of people ‘stateless’ or with ‘unknown nationality’ was 69,778, and in 2018, 63,982.
  • Government figures on registrations in the Dutch Population Register (Basisregistratie Personen (BRP)) record over 4,000 registered stateless people in the country.
  • UNHCR reports government figures for the stateless population and estimates there to be around 10,000 stateless people in the country.
  • Asylum statistics provide data on applications by stateless people with some disaggregation. In 2014, 12% of total applications were made by stateless asylum seekers (mainly Palestinians from Syria). In 2016, 5% of total asylum requests were from stateless people. The total number of asylum applications (first applications, repeated applications, family reunification) in 2017 was 31,327, of which 1,611 (5%) were stateless; 120 initial asylum requests were submitted by people recorded as stateless in 2017.
  • Various surveys and mapping studies of statelessness have been carried out by NGOs and UNHCR.
  • Previously unpublished figures from the Central Office for Statistics (Centraal Bureau voor de Statistiek) showing an increase in the number of people registered as stateless in the Netherlands from 2,005 in January 2012 to 12,477 in January 2017 were reported by the Dutch media in October 2017.
  • The lack of a statelessness determination procedure means that it’s unclear who is included in the reported numbers, and the numbers are likely to be underreported.
  • No specific data is published on the number of stateless people in detention, but information is published on the number of people in detention with 'unknown nationality'. For example, 6% of the 2,176 people who entered detention in 2015 were recorded as having 'unknown nationality'. The overall use of immigration detention increased in the year between 2016-17. 3,181 people entered detention in 2017, 3.7% of whom were recorded as having ‘unknown nationality’. 3,119 people were released from detention in 2017 and the average length of detention was 43 days.

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 (SDP) procedure; or, if not, whether there are other procedures or mechanisms by which statelessness can be identified and legal status determined. Countries are subdivided in four groups to enable comparison between those with an SDP in place, those with other administrative procedures, those with a status but no clear mechanism, and those without any status or mechanism. Where a procedure and status exist, these are assessed against norms and good practice, and the rights granted to recognised stateless persons are examined.

There is a definition of a stateless person in Dutch law, but it is slightly narrower than the 1954 Convention definition and there is no dedicated statelessness determination procedure, although the parliament is currently considering legislation in this area. There are two possible administrative procedures for a person to register as stateless depending on whether they are legally residing in the country. Both have significant gaps in terms of access and flaws in the assessment process, and neither confer 1954 Convention rights and protections. Identification as a stateless person does not lead to permission to stay, though a legally residing stateless person who registers may have access to a travel document and a facilitated route to naturalisation.

  • The definition of a stateless person in the Netherlands is slightly narrower than the 1954 Convention: a stateless person is someone not considered a national by any state ‘under its legislation’ rather than ‘under the operation of its law’.
  • There is no dedicated SDP in the Netherlands. Although statelessness can be identified through other administrative procedures, there are significant gaps in these procedures.
  • A legislative procedure for an SDP is planned and due to be discussed in Parliament, but there are concerns about the draft that require addressing.
  • Although there is no dedicated SDP in the Netherlands, there are other administrative procedures through which it is possible to identify statelessness.
  • People staying legally in the Netherlands can be registered as stateless in the Basisregistratie Personen (BRP - Dutch Population Register) based on identity documents evidencing statelessness or a statement by the Minister of Security and Justice at the Dutch immigration Service. However, there are challenges with how this is implemented in practice, leading to significant protection gaps. Registration as stateless in the BRP provides a stateless person with some legal rights (for example, to a travel document, and accelerated access to Dutch citizenship).
  • Another procedure through which statelessness may be identified is registration in the Immigration and Naturalisation Service’s Basisvoorziening Vreemdelingen (BVV - Database on Foreigners), which allows stateless people without legal residence to be registered while they are in the procedure, though registration does not lead to any legal rights and is simply a registration database used internally within government institutions.
  • The Immigration and Naturalisation Service (IND) can register someone as stateless in the Database on Foreigners (BVV) or refer them to the Population Register (BRP), but there are no obligations in law on the authorities to consider a claim for statelessness made within another procedure and there is no dedicated protection status. An assessment of statelessness is not made during the asylum procedure, though the IND has a responsibility to assess the birth date and nationality as best they can when deciding on admissibility of a claim. A referral mechanism between procedures is envisioned in the new SDP legislation currently before parliament.
  • The rules for registration of nationality in the BVV are not regulated by law, but there is an internal administrative protocol describing how to use a wide range of evidence (for example, witness statements or language tests).
  • There are no clear instructions on how to be identified as stateless because of the absence of a central SDP available to all stateless persons. A legally residing stateless person can ask their municipality to register them as stateless if they have relevant documents, but municipalities implement the procedure differently and no assistance is provided at first instance to inform people how and when to ask for registration as a stateless person. Examination of the evidence is conducted locally by the municipality, who can ask the IND for its opinion on an individual’s nationality. There is provision in law for the IND and municipalities to cooperate, but this is not consistent.
  • There is no information available to suggest that there is standard training for officials on statelessness, but some state officials have attended ad hoc trainings.
  • The burden of proof in the process to register as a stateless person in the BRP lies fully with the applicant.
  • The standard of proof is higher than in asylum procedures: the applicant must provide documents to prove statelessness.
  • The municipality can request information from the IND, but it has no obligation to do so.
  • There is no clear guidance for the process of registering as stateless. Instructions on evidence do not differentiate between stateless people and other non-nationals, and their specific circumstances are not considered.
  • There is no fee for the procedure of registering as a stateless person in the BRP. Free legal aid is available to challenge a decision in the court where the applicant cannot meet legal costs.
  • There is no interview, and no interpreter is provided, though the applicant can bring someone with them to provide language support.
  • Decisions are given in writing and with reasons in line with general rules for administrative procedures.
  • Identification and registration as a stateless person do not lead to permission to stay nor an official legal status, since statelessness is only an administrative category and only people who are legally residing can register as stateless in the BRP.
  • Registration as a stateless person in the BRP gives the right to a travel document and accelerated access to Dutch citizenship (following three years' legal stay and at a reduced cost).
  • Stateless people without legal residence do not have a right to an identity or travel document.


Analyses law, policy and practice relating to immigration detention generally, focusing in 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, whether 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 and whether statelessness is considered juridically relevant in bilateral return and readmission agreements.

Dutch law provides for some procedural safeguards and limited protections against arbitrary detention, but there are significant gaps. Although it is set in law that detention should only be a last resort and there must be a real prospect of removal, statelessness is not considered a juridically relevant fact in decisions to detain and a country of removal is not required to be set prior to detention. Alternatives to detention exist, but reports suggest these are not fully considered prior to detaining. There is a time limit, a right to legal aid, judicial oversight, and rules governing the redocumentation process, but there are barriers to accessing legal assistance in practice and no legal status is granted on release, putting people at risk of immediate re-detention.

  • Powers for immigration detention are provided for in law. Grounds for detention include: danger to public order or national security; irregular entry and avoiding supervision; disregarding obligation to depart; not leaving the Netherlands after being ordered to; no or insufficient cooperation with establishing identity and nationality; presenting wrong or contradicting information; destruction of documentation; presenting fraudulent documentation; having been declared an 'undesirable foreigner'; ignoring obligations when crossing the border; possible serious criminal past; handover to another country; and need for additional inquiry into a person's identity.
  • Although there is no need to identify a proposed country for removal prior to the decision to detain, detention is only permitted when a real prospect of removal exists.
  • Statelessness is not considered a juridically relevant fact and there is no statelessness determination procedure (SDP) to refer into.
  • Stateless people are detained in practice, but this must be inferred from general statistics as there is no SDP and data is not fully reliable. The use of detention has fluctuated in recent years: in 2011, 5,844 people entered detention for the purpose of deportation. In 2015, this had reduced to 1,852 people, but in 2016 it increased to 2,230 people; and again in 2017 to 3,181.
  • The law provides for detention to be used only as a last resort.
  • New draft legislation currently before parliament would require greater attention to be given to vulnerability but it is not yet clear what this would mean in practice.
  • It is set out in law that detention should be a measure of last resort. An 'investigative duty' on the authorities to consider alternatives to detention was included in the new Law on Return & Immigration Detention, but there is no further information about what this might entail in practice.
  • A range of alternatives to detention exist in practice though not in law: notice to leave the Netherlands, a duty to report combined with intensive case management, bail to prevent absconding, confiscating documents combined with reporting, freedom restricting measures, and an airport lounge alternative for departures. These are not subject to statutory time limit nor periodic review.
  • In practice, reports suggest that detention is currently not only used as a last resort.
  • The maximum period for detention is 18 months (six months plus 12 months’ extension).
  • The law provides that individuals must be informed in writing of the reasons for detention, as well as how to challenge the legality of their detention and access free legal aid.
  • People may be held in pre-detention at the police station, before being transferred to a detention centre where the removal process is initiated, and the initial decision to detain is then submitted to a court by an assistant public prosecutor (Hulpofficier van Justitie) within four weeks (in practice 10-12 days). The court must make a decision within two weeks, which can be appealed. After six months, another judicial review is mandatory if the detention is to be extended up to a maximum of 12 more months. The Return and Departure Service (DT&V) is key to the decision to extend detention, which is partially based on their advice, meaning in practice it has significant decision-making power in the detention and return process. Detainees can appeal the decision to extend detention and can ask a judge to re-examine the lawfulness of their detention at any time, for example, to check the continued prospect of deportation.
  • There are rules and guidelines for the process of re-documentation, which involves a return interview conducted by the authorities and visits to the appropriate embassy arranged and accompanied by an official, but the burden of proof lies on the applicant and is stringent. The process is lengthy, and, in many cases, applicants are released after the maximum detention time limit after which re-detention might occur.
  • Although free legal aid is available, barriers to access have been reported in practice, including a lack of interpreters and inability to contact lawyers from within detention centres.
  • There is no protection from re-detention on release, and immediate re-detention is possible.
  • No legal status is granted on release and people do not have access to any rights, including social services, accommodation, welfare, education, healthcare, or work.
  • Re-detention regularly occurs, and cumulative time spent in detention is not counted towards the maximum time limit in law, so in practice, detention can be indefinite.
  • One legal possibility where return has proven impossible is for a stateless person to apply for a “no-fault” residence permit (buitenschuldvergunning), valid for a year and extendable annually. However, the approval rate for this procedure is low, as the burden of proof is on the applicant to prove beyond doubt that return to a former country of habitual residence is impossible and they are not to blame for this.
  • Most bilateral return agreements with countries of origin include a clause on readmitting former residents who are (presumed) stateless.
  • There have been cases of people with disputed/unknown nationality being returned under such agreements to Guinea and DRC, for example, but not recognised stateless persons.

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 statelessness among groups at high risk, and provisions regarding withdrawal of nationality.

Full safeguards are in place in the Netherlands to prevent statelessness in the case of foundlings and adopted children, but there are gaps for other stateless children born on the territory or to Dutch nationals abroad. Law and practice in relation to birth registration is also problematic, with strict deadlines, documentation requirements and a complex late birth registration procedure. The provision in Dutch nationality law for children born on the territory who would otherwise be stateless is not automatic and requires continuous, legal, permanent residence of at least three years, as well as proof of the child’s statelessness. Children born to unmarried Dutch fathers abroad are also disadvantaged by a requirement that the father officially acknowledges paternity before the child is seven.

  • There is a provision in law for otherwise stateless children born in the Netherlands to acquire nationality, but it is not automatic. A written 'option statement' must be completed and submitted to the Immigration and Naturalisation Service for approval and the child must have at least three years' continuous, legal residence in the country.
  • The child's statelessness must be proven, and they must be registered as stateless before acquiring nationality. The burden of proof lies on the applicant.
  • There is no age limit for a stateless child born on the territory to acquire nationality.
  • Children who are born in the Netherlands and have residence as beneficiaries of international protection, Dutch birth certificates or birth certificates from signatories to the Apostille Convention are exempt from the requirement to provide passports and some other documentation in the naturalisation process.
  • New draft legislation before parliament proposes to amend the safeguard for stateless children born on the territory, introducing some positive changes (such as revoking the residence requirement), but the proposals are problematic as they still make a child's right to acquire nationality conditional on the actions of their parents.
  • There is a provision in law to grant citizenship automatically to foundlings. There is no explicit age limit, but the legislation uses terms such as 'young age' and 'child', which are interpreted to mean under 18 years-old.
  • The law protects a foundling from statelessness if parents are later identified.
  • The law prevents any loss of Dutch nationality as a result of adoption by foreign parent/s leading to statelessness and enables a Dutch child adopted by foreign parent/s to retain Dutch nationality in certain circumstances.
  • Dutch law distinguishes between 'strong' and 'weak' adoption. An adoption is 'strong' if the legal ties between the child and the birth parents are broken, or 'weak' if they remain. In the latter case, the adopted child becomes a citizen when acknowledged by a Dutch judge. Although this process is not automatic and there are conditions, there are no reports of any risk of statelessness during the procedure.
  • Children with parents of Dutch nationality have access to nationality by descent, but there are discriminatory elements to the provision. In the case of a Dutch father and a foreign mother, the father must officially acknowledge the child before they reach seven years-old if they are not married. If the Dutch father acknowledges the child at or after the age of seven, they must present DNA evidence of paternity.
  • The law provides for registration of all births on the territory to take place immediately (legally, within three days), but an identification document must be provided by the parents. If the parents do not have legal stay, there are various options set out as to who can certify the birth. So ultimately birth registration is possible, even in absence of legal residence and ID documents. If the child is born in hospital, a medical statement is also required with the date and time of birth and sex of the child. For parents who are not legal residents to be included on the birth certificate they must present a legalised birth certificate; statement of non-marriage or copy of the marriage certificate; and an identity document.
  • NGOs and lawyers have noted that there may be barriers or complications relating to birth registration for undocumented parents who either cannot meet the documentation requirements or are afraid to approach the authorities due to their irregular status.
  • The municipality may pass on information about any change to a population register (BRP) entry for someone legally residing in the country to the immigration authorities, but there are no mandatory reporting requirements relating to people who are undocumented.
  • The deadline for birth registration is three days (which can be extended by two working days if birth takes place on a holiday or weekend).
  • Late registration is possible in law, but there are practical barriers. It is a long process as proof of where the birth took place is required and a DNA test may be necessary. It is often necessary to go to court, which is expensive and takes time. The public prosecutor will be informed of any late registration and parents may be fined.
  • There is no evidence of any proactive government campaigns to promote birth registration.
  • There are credible reports of low rates of birth registration among Roma communities in the Netherlands as well as survivors of human trafficking and undocumented migrants, due to the registration system being inadequate for these communities.
  • A legislative proposal currently before parliament proposes to introduce an SDP, remove reservations from the statelessness conventions, and remove the obligation on stateless children to reside legally in the country in order to opt for Dutch citizenship (although new requirements are set in place (‘stable principal residence’) that are considered to be discriminatory because of the requirements set on the parent of the undocumented child).
  • Provisions on deprivation and loss of nationality are established in Dutch law.
  • There are safeguards against statelessness in all cases of withdrawal except for where citizenship has been acquired through fraud.
  • Automatic loss of Dutch nationality is never possible if it results in statelessness.
  • The competent authority is the Minister of Justice and Security and there is a right to appeal and to legal aid to challenge the decision.

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