Statelessness and Nationality Policy in Tunisia

Published: 1/Jun/2023
Source: Boston University School of Law International Human Rights Clinic


Statelessness is defined as the condition of not being considered a national by any state under the operation of its laws. This condition, however, may be the result of a human rights violation that always leaves stateless persons without the full enjoyment of their human rights. This is because, across the world, nationality is treated as a threshold criterion for entitlement to basic human rights such as legal identity, housing, employment, education, and healthcare. In a series of reports since 2018, the International Human Rights Clinic (IHRC) at Boston University has considered the citizenship and nationality regimes in Middle East and North Africa (MENA) countries and whether they are sufficient to protect against statelessness.

This Report analyzes the achievements and gaps in Tunisia’s laws and policies that concern statelessness. Though a sound foundation for  reducing and preventing statelessness is in place in Tunisia, the risk of statelessness persists for certain vulnerable populations—namely irregular migrants, refugees, and survivors of human trafficking. The report traces these gaps to specific barriers in Tunisia’s domestic law and proposes amendments to Tunisia’s laws and policies that would, if implemented, close the gaps identified for those at a heightened risk of statelessness.

Tunisia, more so than any other country in the MENA, has taken proactive steps to recognize and protect against statelessness. Tunisia is a party to both the 1954 Convention on the Status of Stateless Persons (1954 Convention), and the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness (1961 Convention). Aside from Libya, which has also ratified both Conventions, Tunisia’s status as party to both sets it apart from other MENA states with regard to its commitments under international law to the reduction of statelessness. Tunisia has also moved
towards achieving gender equality in its Nationality Code through a 2010 amendment, which responded to civil society’s push for reform by providing Tunisian mothers the right to automatically confer their citizenship to their children.

Tunisia’s birth registration procedure, though cumbersome for certain populations, is still more protective than those elsewhere in the MENA, and covers the vast majority of children born in the country.5 Despite commendable practices regarding gender equality and birth registration, some of Tunisia’s domestic laws and policies fall short of the state’s international legal obligations. This Report highlights the laws and policies which place migrants and refugees at heightened risk of becoming stateless and deprives stateless persons of protection in Tunisia.

Because of its location on the Mediterranean coast, Tunisia has long been considered an important country of transit for migrants on their way to Europe. Increasingly, however, Tunisia has also become a destination for migrants, including asylum seekers and trafficked persons. In 2019, the number of international migrants in Tunisia reached 57,445. In 2023, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that over 9,400 asylum seekers and refugees are registered by UNHCR in Tunisia. Unfortunately, Tunisia’s laws and  policies relevant to migration and citizenship acquisition have not been revised to reflect this change in its migration profile, rendering many provisions of Tunisia’s legal framework outdated and insufficient to combat and prevent statelessness in the country. As this report goes to publication, this regrettable status quo is exacerbated the government’s rhetoric regarding migrants as sources of instability for the country.

The conclusion of this Report is that Tunisia’s existing laws and policies fail to reduce and prevent statelessness despite safeguards in its domestic legal framework and its commitment through ratification of several international legal instruments. In addition, its failure to adopt national legislation to protect and provide a pathway to citizenship to refugees and stateless persons creates a risk of statelessness for longterm migrants on its territory. As the number of migrants in Tunisia continues to rise, so does the number of migrants who are criminalized  for lack of proper documentation. Tunisia’s laws, policies, and social reluctance to legally integrate forced migrants work together to increase the vulnerability of certain groups of migrants, including their risk of statelessness.

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Themes: Acquisition of nationality, Loss and Deprivation of Nationality, Statelessness
Regions: Tunisia
Year: 2023