Spain - Supreme Court (Contentious-Administrative Chamber), appeal no. 4631/2010

The Supreme Court held that a passport issued by the Algerian authorities to a Saharawi person living at the refugee camps only serves as a travel document and does not confirm that the applicant has Algerian nationality. The applicant is stateless and must be officially recognised as such. 

Case name (in original language)
Sentencia del Tribunal Supremo, Sala de lo Contencioso, recurso nº 4631/2010
Case status
Case number
ECLI: ES:TS:2011:6589
Supreme Court (Contentious-Administrative Chamber), appeal no. 4631/2010, ECLI: ES:TS:2011:6589, 14 October 2011
Date of decision
Court / UN Treaty Body
Supreme Court (Tribunal Supremo)
Language(s) the decision is available in
Applicant's country of birth
Applicant's country of residence
Relevant Legislative Provisions

Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, 28 September 1954 (“1954 Convention”)
Ley Orgánica 4/2000, de 11 de enero, sobre derechos y libertades de los extranjeros en España y su integración social (Foreigners Act). 
Real Decreto 865/2001, de 20 de julio, por el que se aprueba el Reglamento de reconocimiento del estatuto de apátrida (Statelessness Determination Procedure Regulation)


The applicant is a Saharawi born in the former Spanish Sahara who lived intermittently in the Saharawi refugee camps between 1976 and 2007. In 2006, the Algerian authorities provided the applicant with a passport for travelling purposes. In 2007 the applicant flew to Spain and applied to be recognised as statelessness one year later. The Ministry of Interior rejected his application based on the fact that he was in possession of an Algerian passport. The applicant appealed the decision before the National High Court, which ruled that the passports issued by the Algerian authorities are just travel documents and do not imply the recognition of Algerian nationality by the government. The Government appealed to the Supreme Court.

Decision & Reasoning

The Supreme Court held that:

The passport provided by Algeria was only for humanitarian reasons, to allow the applicant to travel to countries where the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic is not recognised as a State. As such, the provision of a passport by Algeria was not a recognition of the applicant’s nationality;

The aim of the UN mission in Algeria (the MINURSO) is to minimise the effects of a potential war and to organise a referendum, but not to provide international protection to the Saharawi people;

Regarding the allegation that the applicant made an unfounded application, this presumption can be undermined if, based on the facts of the case, it can be concluded that the applicant meets all the requirements to be recognised as stateless; which is what happens in the present case.


The Court upheld the lower court’s decision, overturning the Government’s decision and granting the applicant stateless status.

Caselaw cited

Sentencia del Tribunal Supremo, de 20 de noviembre de 2007 (appeal no. 10530/2007)

Sentencia del Tribunal Supremo, de 18 de julio de 2008 (appeal no. 555/2005)

Sentencia del Tribunal Supremo, de 19 de diciembre de 2008 (appeal no. 7337/2005)

Sentencia del Tribunal Supremo, de 20 de junio de 2011 (appeal no. 5767/2007), among others