No papers, no homeland: a stateless seven-year-old girl's struggle

A pioneering ruling by the Guipúzcoa Appeal Court allows for a girl born during her mother's migratory journey to be naturalised for the first time

3 min
Photograph of Sabroo, a stateless girl photographed by the ARA in Athens, in a file image. She is in the arms of her mother Sowaillah, an Afghan refugee in Greece

BarcelonaAnna is seven years old and has been living in San Sebastián with her mother for four years, but in the eyes of the system it is as if she had just been born now. Although her mother, of Cameroonian origin, has her papers in order to reside in the State, she had not been able to inscribe her daughter in the registry, she had no health card or passport, she was not registered as a resident and, although she went to school, she could not change schools or attend extracurricular activities. The reason is that Anna was denied a nationality because she was born during her mother's migratory journey between Cameroon, Morocco and Spain. Now a court has ordered the Spanish state to give Anna Spanish nationality, against the Prosecutor's Office's and the State attorney's position.

The pioneering sentence by the Guipúzcoa's Appeal Court endorses the pronouncement already made at the time by another court of first instance in San Sebastian, which evaluated the case and concluded that for years Anna's "fundamental rights" had been "violated" because she was not given Spanish nationality. It recognised the minor's right to access Spanish nationality from the start.

Contrary to the criteria of the State attorneys, who appealed the first sentence by the San Sebastián court, the Court emphasised that the right to have a nationality is recognised by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. In fact, the magistrates recall that the Spanish Civil Code establishes that in cases where the first known place of residence of a minor is the Spanish state, they have to be recognised as "born in Spanish territory".

Although stateless minors are exceptional cases, different humanitarian organisations have been denouncing their existence in Spain for some time. These are minors who were born during their parent's migratory journey and have not been able to register their births in any country. In Spain there is a statute that allows the recognition of a person as stateless. In 2020 –the last year with data available from the Ministry of the Interior– 86 minors under 13 years and 28 teenagers aged between 14 and 17 requested this recognition.

The Guipúzcoa Appeal Court's judgment of the Court of Guipuzcoa is a judicial precedent because it is the first time that a court composed of several magistrates has ruled in favour of the naturalisation of stateless minors. Until now, only one Andalusian judge had issued a similar order. It is the head of the civil registry of Montilla, who in October last year agreed to register a one-and-a-half-year-old stateless baby.

A long bureaucratic journey

Anna arrived in Tarifa on a dinghy in May 2018, along with her mother, who shortly after disembarking began a long bureaucratic struggle to be able to register her daughter. Although the sentence does not specify it, the minor was supposedly born in Morocco during her mother's migratory journey to Spain. From the very first moment, the little girl was denied a residence permit and a passport. In March 2019, the mother sent a letter to the Cameroonian ambassador in Spain asking him to register the child as Cameroonian, but a few months later the Cameroonian authorities replied that they could not recognise her daughter because she was not born in Cameroonian territory and diverted her to Morocco. The second letter written by the mother to the authorities of this country still awaits a reply.

In 2019, Anna's mother again asked the Civil Registry of San Sebastian to make a declaration recognising the girl's Spanish nationality and allowing her birth to be registered. But first the local and then the central body refused. From this point on, the woman took her daughter's case to the courts and so far two rulings have proven her right. In fact, the last sentence by Guipúzcoa's Appeal Court recognises "the genuine effort" of the woman to "remove obstacles" that prevented the naturalisation of her daughter in any of the three countries. The magistrates emphasise that in cases of stateless minors both the administrations and the judicial system have to make "the interest of the minor" prevail over any other issue.