The status of stateless persons was not regulated in accordance with the Convention

In the case Sudita Keita v. Hungary (application no. 42321/15, 12.05.2020) the European Court of Human Rights held that there has been a violation of Article 8 (right to respect for private and family life) of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The applicant, Michael Sudita Keita, is a stateless person (of Somali and Nigerian descent) who was born in 1985 and lives in Budapest.

The case concerned the difficulties in regularising his legal situation in Hungary over a period of 15 years. Mr Sudita Keita arrived in Hungary in 2002, submitting a request for recognition as a refugee. The immigration authorities rejected it the same year. He has continued to live in the country without any legal status, apart from one period from 2006 to 2008 when he was granted a humanitarian residence permit as an exile because he could not be returned to Somalia while the civil war was ongoing and the Nigerian embassy in Budapest had refused to recognise him as one of its citizens.

The authorities reviewed his exile status in 2008 and ordered his deportation in 2009, but it was not enforced. Ultimately, in 2017, the Hungarian courts recognised him as a stateless person. His request had at first been refused because he did not meet the requirement under the relevant domestic law of “lawful stay in the country”. That requirement was, however, found unconstitutional in 2015. 

Relying in particular on Article 8 (right to respect for private and family life) of the European Convention on Human Rights, Mr Sudita Keita complained about the authorities’ protracted reluctance to regularise his situation, alleging that it had had adverse repercussions on his access to healthcare and employment and his right to marry.

The Court considered it important to note several aspects of the proceedings related to the applicant’s status in Hungary. It cannot subscribe to the Government’s arguments revolving around the consideration that Article 8 of the Convention cannot be interpreted as requiring the State to grant stateless status to a person. The applicant’s complaint does not concern the impossibility for him to obtain stateless status as such, but the general impossibility of regularising his status in Hungary for a fifteen-year-long period. 

At this juncture, the Court noted that the applicant – following the decision on 29 November 2002 on the refusal of recognition of refugee status effectively lived in Hungary without any legal status while being deprived of basic entitlements to healthcare and employment.

It is also to be emphasised that, up until the decision of the Constitutional Court removing the “lawful stay” requirement from the law, it was practically impossible for the applicant to be recognised as stateless as he did not meet that requirement. Thus, in reality, contrary to the principles flowing from the 1954 UN Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, the applicant, a stateless individual, was required to fulfil requirements which, by virtue of his status, he was unable to fulfil.

The Court also observed that, following the decision of the Constitutional Court of 23 February 2015 it took the domestic courts until 11 October 2017 to reach a final decision in the applicant’s case, ultimately granting him stateless status.

Having regard to the combined effect of the above elements, the Court is not persuaded that, in the particular circumstances of the applicant’s case, the respondent State complied with its positive obligation to provide an effective and accessible procedure or a combination of procedures enabling the applicant to have the issue of his status in Hungary determined with due regard to his private-life interests under Article 8 of the Convention. There has accordingly been a violation of Article 8 of the Convention.

References from the official website of the European Court of Human Rights