Ireland - F.F. v The Minister for Justice Equality & Law Reform

This case concerned an appeal as to whether an applicant for subsidiary protection may be considered both as a national of a third country and a stateless person simultaneously under the European Communities (Eligibility for Protection) Regulations 2006 and the Qualification Directive. The Court held that a person who is a national of a state is not a stateless person and that such state or country is his country of origin in relation to which his application must be primarily decided.

Case name (in original language)
F.F. v The Minister for Justice Equality & Law Reform
Case status
Case number
[2017] IECA 273
F.F. v The Minister for Justice Equality & Law Reform [2017] IECA 273
Date of decision
Court / UN Treaty Body
Court of Appeal
Language(s) the decision is available in
Applicant's country of birth
Applicant's country of residence
Ireland {Republic}
Relevant Legislative Provisions

Regulation 2(1), Regulation 2(2), Regulation 5(1) and Regulation 5(1)(e) of the European Communities (Eligibility for Protection) Regulations 2006 ( S.I. 518 of 2006)

Article 2(k), Article 2(c), Article 2(e), Article 4(3)(e), Article 12, and Recitals (2)-(6) of the Qualification Directive

s. 2 and s. 17(4) of the Refugee Act 1996

Article 67 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union


The applicant was born in Cameroon in 1965. He worked as a journalist and with an NGO and claimed to have experienced persecution in Cameroon, including arrest, detention and torture. He fled to Nigeria in 1999 and was recognised as a refugee there in 2001. He claims to have been threatened by a Cameroonian diplomat in Nigeria, and in 2002 fled to Mali via Ghana. He was granted refugee status in Mali in 2003. He subsequently left Mali as a result of alleged abuses from the authorities as a result of his role in an organisation that was opposed to FGM.

He arrived in Ireland and claimed refugee status in September 2005. In his initial application he stated his nationality as “stateless? {Cameroonian}”. His claim for refugee status was assessed on the basis that he was stateless with his country of habitual residence being Mali. This application was refused and the applicant applied for subsidiary protection. The authorities examined his application for subsidiary protection on the grounds that he was stateless and by reference to his countries of habitual residence; Cameroon, Nigeria and Mali.

The applicant was refused subsidiary protection and subsequently brought judicial review proceedings challenging the refusal of subsidiary protection on the basis that his claim should not have been assessed on the basis that he was stateless. It was contended that the applicant’s country of nationality was Cameroon and that that he does not have a right to nationality in Nigeria or Mali and that in accordance with the 2006 Regulations, Cameroon is the only country with reference to which his claim should have been assessed as his country of nationality. The High Court dismissed this challenge and the applicant appealed.

The main issue which arose on the appeal was whether an applicant for subsidiary protection may be considered both as a national of a third country and a stateless person simultaneously under the European Communities (Eligibility for Protection) Regulations 2006 (‘2006 Regulations’)

Decision & Reasoning

Whether the use of the term “stateless” in the Qualification Directive and the 2006 Regulations includes the concept of de facto statelessness or is confined to a person who is de jure stateless?

The Court of Appeal noted that there was no decision either of the Court of Justice or the Irish courts which recognised the concept of “de facto” statelessness,. The Court referred to UNCHR reports as well as the decision of the English Court of Appeal in B2 v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2013] EWCA Civ 616 which considered that “stateless” as defined in the British Nationality Act 1981 meant de jure stateless. It was further noted that the term “stateless person” is not defined in the Qualification Directive nor in any other EU provision.

The Court noted that despite Ireland, acceding to the 1954 UN Convention on the Status of Stateless Persons, it had not implemented the definition of a “stateless person” into national law, nor is it referred to in EU provisions, therefore the Court did not rely on this definition in interpreting the Qualification Directive or the 2006 Regulations.

The Court of Appeal referred to the decision of the CJEU in HN v Minister for Justice Equality & Law Reform (Case C-604/12) (paras.27 and 28) where it was held that the Qualification Directive must be interpreted in a manner consistent with the Geneva Convention. Accordingly the Court of Appeal concluded that the Qualification Directive in using the term “a stateless person” in the definition of “refugee” in Article 2(c) of the Qualification Directive is using this term to connote the second category of persons referred to in the definition of refugee in the Geneva Convention, namely persons “not having a nationality”. This meant a person who was “de jure” stateless but did not include a person who was “de facto” stateless. (para. 43) The Court of Appeal held that:

“a person who is an applicant for subsidiary protection therefore either has a nationality or is stateless but cannot simultaneously be considered as both having a nationality and being stateless.”  (para.44)

In circumstances where the decision-maker accepted that the applicant was a national of Cameroon, that was the only country against which the applicant’s claim should have been assessed. The Court considered that the only circumstances in which it is relevant to consider potential protection from another country is in accordance with Regulation 5(1)(e) (which implements Article 4(3)(e) of the Qualification Directive). This applies only if there is evidence that an applicant could assert citizenship in that other country. (para. 45)

The decision-maker therefore erred in law in also assessing the applicant’s claim with reference to Mali and Nigeria. (para. 46)

Importantly, the Court distinguished the present case from the judgment of the High Court in T.B.K. v. Linehan & Ors. [2010] IEHC 438 where in an application for asylum by a person originally from Bhutan who had subsequently lived in Nepal, Nepal was considered to be his former habitual residence, and the Tribunal made an express finding that the applicant was stateless. The High Court judge in that case upheld the finding of statelessness as one that was open to the Tribunal member on the evidence before him. (para. 47)


Appeal allowed. The decision maker erred in law in treating Cameroon as the applicant’s only country of origin. The applicant was entitled to have this decision quashed and his application remitted to the Minister.

Caselaw cited

B2 v. The Secretary of State for the Home Department [2013] EWCA Civ 616

H.N. v. Minister for Justice Equality & Law Reform ( Case C-604/12) 

T.B.K. v. Linehan & Ors. [2010] IEHC 438