Update from June 2022:
On 1 January 2021 there were 884 people registered as ‘stateless’ in the Belgian National Registry as well as 3,341 registered under the category ‘Palestinian Authority’ and 25,622 people registered as having 'undetermined nationality'. The latter is a significant increase from 4,248 people in 2017, mainly due to the transition from paper to electronic identity documents, which has allowed children who had not previously been registered to be registered in the National Registry.
Belgium has been considering several reforms in the areas of migration and statelessness in 2021. Civil society organisations were invited to submit proposals during the process to draft a new Migration Code and several recommended introducing a right of residence for people recognised as stateless in Belgium. In December 2021, at the High Level Officials Meeting under the Global Refugee Forum process, the Belgian Government pledged to introduce a ‘legal process to provide stateless persons who cannot return to their home country a right of residence in Belgium’. We understand that this procedure is currently being drafted.
New resources on Belgium now available include:
- 2021 Statelessness Index Survey
- Country briefing on access to protection for stateless refugees from Ukraine in Belgium
- Joint submission to the UN Committee against Torture on Belgium (June 2021)
Belgium has a relatively good record on accession to relevant human rights instruments, but it entered declarations to the 1961 Convention, which limit the scope of some provisions to prevent statelessness, and it has not acceded the relevant Council of Europe Conventions. Some data on the stateless population is available and improvements have been made, but there are some remaining gaps. Statelessness may be determined through a judicial procedure, but this lacks procedural rules and safeguards, there are issues with the burden and standard of proof, and recognition of statelessness by the courts does not currently lead to a residence permit nor additional rights, though negotiations are underway to introduce a right of residence for some stateless people in Belgium. There are also gaps in safeguards to prevent the arbitrary detention of stateless people and people released from detention are not provided with identification documents or rights.
There are some safeguards to prevent and reduce statelessness established in Belgian law, including a provision to automatically grant nationality to otherwise stateless children born on the territory, but there are issues with how this operates in practice. The foundlings provision applies only to newborn children and there may be a risk of statelessness in adoption proceedings due to rules on loss and acquisition of Belgian nationality. Although all births should be registered in Belgium irrespective of parents’ status, public servants must report undocumented people to the immigration authorities, which could be a barrier in practice. Parents must also be legally residing to subsequently register a child in the National Registry, a precondition for access to many rights, including full access to education and healthcare. On loss and deprivation of nationality, there are safeguards to prevent statelessness in most cases, except where nationality is acquired through fraud.
Information below by theme was last updated in March 2021.
Valérie Klein and Julie Lejeune, NANSEN