Update from June 2022:
As of 31 October 2021, the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) reported 685 persons recognised as stateless living in Switzerland (34 more than in 2020), 267 persons were registered as ‘without nationality’ and 1,138 as ‘state unknown’. It also recorded that in the asylum procedure there were 35 stateless persons, 467 people ‘without nationality’ and 459 ‘state unknown’; and 293 stateless people, 10 ‘without nationality’ and 662 ‘state unknown’ were recognised as refugees. The Federal Statistical Office (FSO) reported 540 stateless persons (57 more than in 2019) and 1,924 under the category ‘no indication’ as of 31 December 2020. The UNHCR Global Trends Report 2021 listed 740 stateless people, including forcibly displaced.
In 2021, Switzerland received recommendations from the Committee on the Rights of the Child to comply with the rights of the child to have their best interests taken as a primary consideration in asylum procedures; to ensure that all children born in Switzerland, irrespective of their parents’ legal status, have access to birth registration and are entitled to a nationality at birth, or are subject to a significantly reduced residence requirement if otherwise stateless; to ensure that parents without regular residence status are not reported to migration authorities when registering their children; and to consider acceding to the 1961 Convention and the Council of Europe Convention on the Avoidance of Statelessness in relation to State Succession.
Swiss courts have delivered several judgments regarding statelessness. The Federal Administrative Tribunal ruled in December 2021 that a stateless person has a legitimate interest in being recognised as stateless even if they are already recognised as a refugee, leading to a change of practice and referring extensively to the case law of the ECtHR. The Federal Tribunal in August 2021 interpreted Article 1(2)(i) of the 1954 Convention and ruled that a person can only be considered to be receiving assistance from UNWRA if they can actually avail themselves of that assistance, and it cannot currently be required that a person travels to Syria to receive assistance by UNWRA. In April 2021, the Federal Tribunal ruled that a person should be recognised as stateless even if they technically would have the opportunity to acquire Syrian nationality as they cannot currently be required to travel to Syria. In February 2021, the Federal Administrative Tribunal ruled on the possibility to withdraw statelessness status.
New resources on Switzerland now available include:
- 2021 Statelessness Index Survey
- Joint Submission on Switzerland to the Human Rights Council at the 42nd Session of the Universal Periodic Review
- Committee on the Rights of the Child, Concluding observations on the combined fifth and sixth periodic reports of Switzerland (October 2021)
- Federal Administrative Tribunal F-1297/2017, 14 December 2021 on the legitimate interest in being recognised as stateless even in case of recognition as a refugee
- Federal Tribunal 2C_330/2020, 6 August 2021 on the scope of assistance from UNWRA
- Federal Tribunal 2C_415/2020, 30 April 2021 on statelessness recognition of a person who could acquire Syrian nationality
- Federal Administrative Tribunal F-6718/2018, 19 February 2021 on the withdrawal of statelessness status
Switzerland is party to the 1954 Convention and to most relevant human rights instruments, but it has not acceded to other core statelessness treaties. There is an administrative procedure in place to determine statelessness, but it is not set in law nor in line with good practice. The protection granted under the procedure is often limited to a one-year renewable residence permit and the definition of a stateless person currently applied is not in line with the 1954 Convention. Nonetheless, claims under the procedure must be considered, decisions can be appealed, and basic minimum support is available to applicants. The Swiss Government accepted a recommendation under the Universal Periodic Review to formalise and ensure the procedure is fair and accessible, and agreed to bring the definition of a stateless person in line with the Convention.
Procedural safeguards are in place for those detained under immigration powers, and alternatives to detention exist in law and practice, but some people not identified as stateless may be at risk of arbitrary detention. Although there is no full safeguard in Swiss nationality law for otherwise stateless children born on the territory, there are routes to naturalisation for some children who would otherwise be stateless, and there are provisions to prevent statelessness in the case of foundlings, adopted children, and children born to Swiss nationals abroad. Birth registration should be possible even where parents are undocumented, and civil registry officials are prohibited from sharing information with immigration authorities. Provisions on deprivation of nationality are established in law and there is a safeguard to prevent statelessness in most cases, but not all.
Information below by theme was last updated in March 2021.