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Report: stateless children in legal grey zone

Poland lacks a systemic approach to the problem of statelessness, particularly in the relation to children, reads the latest report of the HFHR. Poland is one of the last EU Member States that have not ratified the UN Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons of 1954 and the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness of 1961. Without those regulations, stateless persons in Poland cannot expect that the problems they face here will be quickly resolved.

“The exact number of stateless persons in Poland is unknown, but different statistics suggest a figure within the range of 700 to 10,000, with a certain portion of them being children”, says Dr Dorota Pudzianowska, an author of the report. Relevant data are inaccurate because Poland has no procedure that could be used to determine if a given person is or is not stateless. “From that perspective, statelessness is an invisible problem”, adds Dr Pudzianowska.

“One of the major problems faced by stateless persons is their being unable to obtain travel documents and leave Poland”, she says. Furthermore, many stateless persons, including children, have difficulties in obtaining residence permits as they have no proper documents. The undocumented status creates more problems related to access to health care and social services.

“We have a recurring pattern of cases that involve Roma children of Romanian and Bulgarian origin abandoned in Poland in the early 1990s who have never acquired any nationality”, says Marta Szczepanik, an author of the report. “In our report we describe the cases of two girls, Agni and Marysia, who were affected by that problem”, she adds.

There are legal loopholes that prevent children from being comprehensively protected against statelessness at the moment of birth. Under Polish law, in certain cases the fact of being born in Poland is sufficient for a child to acquire Polish nationality. This rule applies to situations where a child is born within the territory of the Republic of Poland to parents who are unknown, stateless or whose citizenship cannot be determined. Moreover, a child whose parents are unknown acquires Polish nationality when found on the territory of Poland. “However, if the child born to citizens of another country does not acquire a nationality after its parents because of a conflict of nationality rules, as is the case with children of Cuban, Sri Lankan or Syrian citizens, then the child will not acquire Polish nationality automatically by birth. This is a gap that should be remedied”, Dorota Pudzianowska says.

What is more, Polish law has no definition of the “stateless person”. There are also practical problems with the interpretation of such terms as “unknown parents”. For instance, a foreign mother is considered “known” even though she has abandoned her child in a hospital and left over traces of unverifiable data.

Another problematic issue is the application of birth registration regulations that only vaguely define what documents parents need to present in order to register a child. “In practice, in some cases the absence of such documents as parents’ birth certificates resulted in a refusal to register a child’s birth”, Marta Szczepanik adds.

The HFHR’s report was drafted as part of the campaign “None of Europe’s children should be stateless” launched in November 2014 by the European Network on Statelessness (ENS). The report was based on data obtained from a plethora of institutions, including 16 provincial offices, the Ministry of the Interior and the Chancellery of the President.

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