Stateless in Europe: ‘We are no people with no nation’
Latvia also has a statelessness determination procedure. But the country denies that its almost 260,000 non-citizens are stateless. When Latvia became independent in 1990, only those who could trace their family’s presence on the territory to before Soviet occupation in 1940 were granted citizenship. The rest – more than 730,000 people accounting for almost a third of the population – were defined as non-citizens. They were allowed to remain in Latvia but without the right to vote.
About two-thirds of Latvia’s former non-citizens have died or emigrated, or gained Latvian nationality since the government lifted age restrictions on who could be naturalised in the 1990s. But approximately 12% of the Latvian population remain stateless. Although they now have most of the rights of Latvian citizens, they cannot vote and are barred from working in the civil service and some other professions, such as pharmacy.
Latvia does admit there is a problem with the non-citizen status, which was only ever meant as a temporary fix designed to limit Soviet influence as the newly independent country found its feet. But over the past two decades, rather than helping to slowly “integrate” the non-citizen population, many people have been alienated by being forced to take a naturalisation test.
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