Statelessness and Issues Relating to Nationality in Zambia

Published: 21/Nov/2016
Source: Government of Zambia


This study was commissioned by the Zambian government with support from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) following government’s pledge to become party to the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness at the Ministerial meeting held in Geneva in December 2011, in commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and the 50th anniversary of the 1961 Convention.

This is in line with government’s recognition of the need to strengthen the country’s legal framework on citizenship. Results of the study were meant to inform state action to become party to the 1961 Convention and to develop a strategy to deal with statelessness in the country either for populations already affected or at risk of becoming stateless.

The objectives of the study were to assess the root causes of statelessness or the risk of becoming stateless in Zambia; to review the current national legal, policy and administrative framework on nationality in Zambia and its conformity with the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness and other international standards relevant to the prevention and reduction of statelessness; to recommend necessary changes to Zambia’s legislation on nationality in order to conform it to the 1961 Convention and other relevant international standards; and to recommend practical steps to implement Zambia’s pledge to accede to the 1961 Convention.

The study was exploratory in nature given that not much was known about statelessness issues in Zambia. The sources of information included officials in relevant organisations in government and outside government concerned with nationality issues, and people at risk of becoming stateless both among migrant groups and non-migrant groups. A review of current laws on citizenship in Zambia was also done.

From the findings, there is no organisation which has the primary responsibility of dealing with the issue of statelessness apart from UNHCR due to its formal mandate. However, there are other organisations that collaborate with UNHCR in trying to address the issue of  statelessness in Zambia including IOM, UN Women, UNICEF, UNFPA and OHCHR. Generally, findings show that cases of statelessness in Zambia are and that there are no statistics available currently on statelessness in Zambia.

However, three suspected cases of statelessness were identified. In all the three cases, the main problem was lack of identity documents for the people concerned. In spite of the rare occurrence of statelessness, it was found that the risk of becoming stateless in Zambia is very high, both among migrant such as refugees and former refugees, and non-migrant populations. For migrant populations the risk arises due to lack of proper identity documents especially passports and residence permits. Lack of identity documents also extended to the children of refugees and former refugees. Worse still, rates of birth registration, and possession of birth certificates were found to be low among the children of refugees and former refugees.

Lack of knowledge of nationality laws was also found to be a problem likely to put foreign nationals resident in Zambia at risk of becoming stateless. This is mainly because of the misconception that being born in Zambia automatically guarantees someone Zambian citizenship. But without taking steps to safeguard their nationality or apply for Zambian citizenship, such people could find themselves stateless should their countries of origin not recognise them as nationals. For non-migrant populations in Zambia, among the major factors for the risk of statelessness is lack of national identity documents especially birth certificates and national registration cards.

The recommendations of the study are that there is need to establish procedures for the identification, protection of legal status and  acquisition of citizenship by stateless persons, and to ratify the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness in the light of the international instruments to which Zambia is a state party (which are discussed in detail in the report).


Themes: Statelessness
Regions: Zambia
Year: 2016