Youth & Statelessness in South Africa

How many times have you been asked where you are from? It’s a common question – and it is usually easy to answer. For some of our clients, it is the most difficult question of all – and they cannot provide an answer.

What’s the problem?
The Scalabrini Advocacy Programme works with several cases of individuals who are at risk of statelessness. A stateless person is someone who is not considered as a national by any state under the operation of its law. In other words, they have no nationality at all.

The effect of statelessness on youth is particularly devastating.

Young people like Allan, who are at risk of statelessness, take extreme measures to become documented. Our film, Allan, follows a young, undocumented man from Cape Town to Kenya in an incredible journey he is forced to undertake, with his siblings, in order to get themselves documented. It results in tragedy – but Allan’s hardened determination and strength persists.

A scene from Allan.

What’s the solution?
At Scalabrini, the Advocacy Programme assists individuals to establish their nationality through family tracing and visiting consulates. If it is established that an individual is stateless, there are applications that can be made to the Department of Home Affairs, but oftentimes this requires further legal assistance. Within South African citizenship and immigration law, some aspects speak to statelessness. If the Department of Home Affairs had a greater capacity to respond and process such applications, great headway could be made to address the issue of statelessness sin South Africa. Furthermore, if the South African government became signatories to the two international statelessness conventions, mechanisms could be put in place to deal with stateless persons and ensure their protection.
We advocate that the South African government address the issue of statelessness within its borders. Indeed, groups of undocumented people are not conducive to a functioning state. Statelessness is therefore not only a problem for the individuals involved, but an issue the South African state has an interest in resolving.

Want to take action?
Click to watch Allan – share on social media to raise awareness!
Sign the petition to end statelessness in South Africa here.If you have any questions pertaining to Scalabrini’s work on statelessness, please email