The first Nansen passports were issued following an international agreement reached at the Intergovernmental Conference on Identity Certificates for Russian Refugees, convened by Fridtjof Nansen in Geneva from July 3, 1922 to July 5, 1922 in his role as High Commissioner for Refugees for the League of Nations. By 1942, they were honored by governments in 52 countries. Approximately 450,000 Nansen passports were provided to stateless people and refugees who needed travel documents but could not obtain one from a national authority.
The Nansen passport was originally provided to refugees from the Russian civil war. It is estimated that about 800,000 Russian refugees had become stateless when Lenin revoked citizenship for all Russian expatriates in 1921.