Editorial Note: what follows is an account of the personal experiences of Daphny Roggeveen, Guest Contributor and Former IP Ambassador, who found herself at risk of losing her Dutch nationality.
Nearly 30 years ago, I was born in a squatted house in Amsterdam. My mother had chosen to remain single and was hence my only acknowledged parent. She solely has the Dutch nationality, which automatically made me Dutch too. My father was a refugee from Iran. He cannot renounce his Iranian nationality as this is a rather persistent nationality, which you cannot get rid of easily. As a result, he holds both the Dutch and Iranian nationality.
My father did not play any part in my childhood and I only got to know him when I was already in my twenties. After meeting him several times, he wanted to officially acknowledge me as his child. This is where it went wrong.
My father and I met in December 2012 with the district office for the recognition. The employee at the desk informed me that I would automatically receive the Iranian nationality as a second nationality. “This happens once an Iranian man acknowledges his child. This goes automatically and cannot be changed.” After several questions from my side about possible consequences for my Dutch nationality, she guaranteed me that owning a dual nationality would not be a problem at all.
In the spring of 2013, I coincidentally discovered that my residence status had been changed. I searched online for information from the government about the possession of a dual nationality, and came across Article 15a of the Dutch Nationality Law. This article stated that the Dutch nationality is lost when an adult accepts a second nationality. Having explained my situation by telephone to the Dutch government, I was advised to contact the immigration department.
I emailed them with the question whether I had really lost my Dutch nationality based on Article 15a of the previously mentioned law. Subsequently, the immigration service confirmed my fears, adding that I did not meet any of the applicable exceptions to this law.
Upset by this message, I immediately sought legal counselling from a nationality lawyer. She told me that it does sometimes happen that people technically lose their nationality due to bureaucratic mistakes or conflicting nationality laws between states. Furthermore, it was not certain whether I could win this particular case, as bureaucratic mistakes are not always reversible. At that moment, I realized what a nightmare I was in. If we did not win the case, I would not be considered Dutch, but Iranian by the Dutch government. Could I then face possible deportation to Iran? At that time, I had never been there, and up until today I barely speak any Farsi.
Since my father had fled Iran for political reasons, my lawyer doubted whether I was deportable at all, due to the risks of potential human right violations. What is more, my lawyer eventually found out that the Iranian authorities did not recognize me as Iranian either, as I was born out of wedlock, which is not in line with Islamic law. In short, the Netherlands did not recognize me as being Dutch and Iran did not recognize me as an Iranian. This caused yet another problem. Was I now to become stateless?
A stressful period of time followed suit, as my position and situation became very uncertain. Could I win the case with my lawyer? Would I be allowed to still live in the Netherlands? Were my passport and ID card still valid? What would happen if I went on holidays and showed my passport to customs? Would I still receive study funding?
My lawyer contacted an advisor of the municipality of Amsterdam, who is employed by the Civil Affairs Advisory Board. She asked him if he could internally investigate my situation. In March 2014, he informed us that a source document or bill containing my Iranian nationality was missing from my file. He also noted that there is no reason to believe that recognition by an Iranian man would result into the child’s acquisition of an Iranian nationality.
“I think I know what happened. It is a simple mistake. The marital status system automatically states the parents’ nationalities when drawing up the recognition act. Nationalities that do not pass on the child should then be removed. That was probably forgotten by the officer who processed the data.”
With a printed copy of this email, I visited the municipality of Amsterdam in April 2014. Then, with only one press of a button, my Iranian nationality was removed from the electronic records, leaving me with only my Dutch nationality. This rather simple act felt almost like an anti-climax, as a complex legal and bureaucratic nightmare was finally resolved after more than a year of insecurity.
During this year, I had still been able to travel and had continued to receive my social benefits, and I have thus never faced severe problems from this bureaucratic error. However, after experiencing the fear of potentially losing my nationality, I now really appreciate the value of owning one. For this very reason, owning a nationality is considered an official human right: when you do not belong to a state, there is no authority that guarantees your other rights.
For most people, such a right is self-evident, yet today there are at least 10 million people worldwide who are denied their right to a nationality. Some of them lost their nationality due to state succession or border issues, yet others are faced with arbitrary discrimination, leaving certain minority groups purposely stateless. There is also a group that inherited statelessness from their parents, and, finally, there are those that became stateless due to administrative barriers and conflicting nationality laws between states.
Fortunately, in my case, everything was resolved and until today I still live in Amsterdam, enjoying my Dutch nationality with the attached privileges. However, the 10 million stateless people that are actually stateless, do not have access to human rights such as education, work and medical care. Please support these millions of people by signing this petition.