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Refugees Magazine Issue 107 (Refugee voices from exile) - A family affair

Refugees Magazine, 1 March 1997

The return of the Kazaks

In the aftermath of the 1916 rebellion in Russia tens of thousands of Kazaks fled to neighbouring countries. Hundreds of thousands more left during the 1930s, as a result of Stalin's collectivization programme and the ensuing famine in Kazakstan. Those who settled in Afghanistan had a particularly difficult time, especially after the 1979 Soviet invasion of that country. Die-hard Soviets branded them descendants of traitors who had fled the USSR. And when many Afghan-Kazakhs refused to fight for their new country, the bulk of the Afghan-Kazakh population were forced to flee to Iran early in the war.

In 1992, a year after the Soviet collapse, the newly independent Kazak government began to repatriate ethnic Kazaks, first from Mongolia and then from Iran, Tajikistan and Turkey. They came by train and plane, boat and bus and on foot, a total of 155,000 by 1996. Among the Afghan-Kazakhs returning 'home' were Mohammed Amin and his wife, Halima, both born in Afghanistan. They settled into two rooms in a large village near the capital of Almaty, the first time they had actually set foot on Kazak soil.

Mohammed Amin, aged 54:
"My parents left Kazakstan in 1934-35 because of the famine. I was born in Faryab Province in north-west Afghanistan. So was my wife. I met her in Mazar-I-Sharif, where we got married. Her parents were Pashtuns from Logar Province.

When the war started in Afghanistan, we moved to Iran. We spent 13 years there, working together making clothes.

Then Kazakstan became independent and we decided to move here. We arrived in a special train, arranged by the government, by the President of Kazakstan. We're very grateful.

We have ten children. Seven of them live here with us, two of them in another oblast (district). One daughter remained in Iran.

We run a small business. We buy food items in Almaty, which we then resell here in the village. For us, it's fine so long as we can eat. We don't mind where we are. The authorities gave us somewhere to live. We are very thankful to the local authorities who assist us with many problems.

Halima, aged 40:
"That's not true! Why do you tell lies? We can barely get by. Life was better in Iran. All my family are still living in Afghanistan, in Mazar-I-Sharif. When the war started, we fled to Iran. I have no news about my mother, father or sisters in Mazar. I don't know if they're all right. I haven't heard from them for 17 years."

Interviews by Rupert Colville




UNHCR country pages

Displacement in Georgia

Tens of thousands of civilians are living in precarious conditions, having been driven from their homes by the crisis in the breakaway Georgian region of South Ossetia.

On the morning of August 12, the first UNHCR-chartered plane carrying emergency aid arrived in the Georgian capital Tbilisi, the first UN assistance to arrive in the country since fighting broke out the previous week. The airlift brought in 34 tonnes of tents, jerry cans, blankets and kitchen sets from UNHCR's central emergency stockpile in Dubai. Items were then loaded onto trucks at the Tbilisi airport for transport and distribution.

A second UNHCR flight landed in Tbilisi on August 14, with a third one expected to arrive the following day. In addition, two UNHCR aid flights are scheduled to leave for Vladikavkaz in the Russian Federation the following week with mattresses, water tanks and other supplies for displaced South Ossetians.

Working with local partners, UNHCR is now providing assistance to the most vulnerable and needy. These include many young children and family members separated from one another. The situation is evolving rapidly and the refugee agency is monitoring the needs of the newly displaced population, which numbered some 115,000 on August 14.

Posted on 15 August 2008

Displacement in Georgia

Ingushetia: Internally Displaced Chechens

When fighting broke out between government troops and rebel forces in Chechnya in 1999, over 200,000 people fled the republic, most of them to the neighbouring republic of Ingushetia. Today, tens of thousands of Chechens remain displaced in Ingushetia, unwilling to go home because of continuing security concerns.

As of early December 2003, some 62,000 displaced Chechens were living in temporary settlements or in private accommodation. Those living in settlements face constant threats of eviction, often by owners who wish to use their buildings again.

Another 7,900 displaced Chechens live in tents in three remaining camps – Satsita, Sputnik, and Bart.

The authorities have repeatedly called for the closure of tent camps and the return of the displaced people to Chechnya. Three camps have been closed in the past year – Iman camp at Aki Yurt, "Bella" or B camp, and "Alina" or A camp. Chechens from the latter two camps who did not wish to go home were allowed to move to Satsita camp or other existing temporary settlements in Ingushetia.

Ingushetia: Internally Displaced Chechens

Vincent Cochetel interviewPlay video

Vincent Cochetel interview

On the occasion of World Humanitarian Day 2010, a senior UNHCR staff member reflects on his experience being kidnapped near Chechnya in 1998.
UN High Commissioner Visits Georgia and RussiaPlay video

UN High Commissioner Visits Georgia and Russia

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres spent four days in Georgia and the Russian Federation to assess UNHCR's humanitarian operations and to speak with those affected by the recent fighting in the breakaway region of South Ossetia.