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Kyrgyzstan grants citizenship to Tajik refugees

News Stories, 1 July 2002

© UNHCR
Kyrgyzstan's First Lady, Professor Mairam Akaeva, handing out passports to Tajik refugees in a ceremony in April.

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan, July 1 (UNHCR) In a move hailed by refugees and UNHCR alike, the central Asian state of Kyrgyzstan today granted citizenship to 22 Tajik refugees in a ceremony held in its capital, Bishkek.

"Today is the most memorable day of my life," said Kufledin Badirov, a Tajik refugee from Alamydynskiy rayon(region), upon receiving his new passport. "I am very grateful to people of Kyrgyzstan for their warm asylum to refugees from Tajikistan. I would like also to thank UNHCR and Legal Clinic who helped us obtain citizenship."

In the last year, Kyrgyzstan has granted Kyrgyz nationality and passports to 1,274 refugees from Tajikistan who have spent at least seven years in the country.

"Refugees here have done a tremendous job at integrating," said James Lynch, who heads UNHCR's liaison office in Bishkek. He noted that the process has been helped by the fact that a majority of the country's long-time refugees were ethnic Kyrgyz who fled Tajikistan's civil conflict and who share many cultural ties with locals.

"I am ethnic Kyrgyz and for me Kyrgyz citizenship means a lot," said former refugee Badirov, now a naturalised Kyrgyz. "Firstly, Kyrgyz citizenship will strengthen my ties with Kyrgyzstan, my new motherland. Secondly, as a citizen I will enjoy additional rights that I could not enjoy before as a refugee: right to purchase land, right to vote. Now I can buy my own land!"

Monday's ceremony, attended by the deputy chairperson of the Citizenship Commission under the President of the Kyrgyz Republic, was the latest in a series of high-profile events to naturalise refugees in Kyrgyzstan. In April, First Lady Mairam Akaeva attended one such ceremony to welcome more than 130 refugee-turned-citizens. She told them, "Your choice to become citizens, to live and bring up your children here, demonstrates the highly humanistic spirit of Kyrgyz people and is an achievement of Kyrgyzstan."

After years of review and amendments, Kyrgyzstan recently produced what many refugee law advocates consider to be a model refugee law.

The new refugee legislation, the Law of the Kyrgyz Republic on Refugees, was passed by the country's Jogorku Kenesh (parliament) on February 14 and signed by President Askar Akaev on March 26.

For UNHCR, the signing of the refugee law, together with the rapid action by Kyrgyzstan to naturalise long-time refugees, was the culmination of many years of hard work and co-operation with the government and various sectors of the country's civil society.

"It was a long-outstanding issue that finally bore some fruit," said UNHCR's Lynch. "The new law sets up the standard that people get a hearing, and they have the right of appeal."

Beginning as far back as 1998, the UN refugee agency had worked closely with a number of government officials, non-governmental agencies and various parliamentarians on early drafts of the recently-promulgated refugee law. The new legislation improves on the country's previous "Temporary Provision on Refugees" in a number of ways.

The most important improvement is that the new law removes references to "safe-country" alternative contained in the earlier provision that caused many asylum seekers to be rejected as they had passed through other states before finally arriving in Kyrgyzstan.

The country's new law also gives rejected asylum seekers the right to appeal the initial decision regarding their claim to asylum through judicial review, an option that individuals fleeing their homeland did not have under the country's temporary legislation.

UNHCR believes that the legislation also expands upon definitions as embodied in the 1951 Convention, as it also defines a refugee as anyone fleeing civil strife a more encompassing standard similar to that included in the refugee Convention of the Organisation of African Unity.

In order to help increase the public's understanding of why a law was required and enhance the possibility that more refugees might get Kyrgyz nationality, UNHCR staff in Bishkek embarked on a number of ventures to spread the word that refugees were not a threat.

The refugee agency also worked to make both government officials and the public aware of the fact that many of the country's more than 7,950 refugees and 400 asylum seekers were already well integrated, many of them successful farmers.

But despite the increased level of attention the refugee naturalisation process has received, and the many positive aspects of the new refugee law, UNHCR remains on the lookout regarding the application of the fresh statutes. The agency hopes these will be implemented as quickly as the welcome legislation was accepted by the country's parliament.

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UNHCR country pages

A Place to Call Home: The Situation of Stateless Persons in the Kyrgyz Republic

Findings of surveys commissioned by UNHCR, Bishkek 2009.

Statelessness in Kyrgyzstan

Two decades after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, thousands of people in former Soviet republics like Kyrgyzstan are still facing problems with citizenship. UNHCR has identified more than 20,000 stateless people in the Central Asian nation. These people are not considered as nationals under the laws of any country. While many in principle fall under the Kyrgyz citizenship law, they have not been confirmed as nationals under the existing procedures.

Most of the stateless people in Kyrgyzstan have lived there for many years, have close family links in the country and are culturally and socially well-integrated. But because they lack citizenship documents, these folk are often unable to do the things that most people take for granted, including registering a marriage or the birth of a child, travelling within Kyrgyzstan and overseas, receiving pensions or social allowances or owning property. The stateless are more vulnerable to economic hardship, prone to higher unemployment and do not enjoy full access to education and medical services.

Since independence in 1991, Kyrgyzstan has taken many positive steps to reduce and prevent statelessness. And UNHCR, under its statelessness mandate, has been assisting the country by providing advice on legislation and practices as well as giving technical assistance to those charged with solving citizenship problems. The refugee agency's NGO partners provide legal counselling to stateless people and assist them in their applications for citizenship.

However, statelessness in Kyrgyzstan is complex and thousands of people, mainly women and children, still face legal, administrative and financial hurdles when seeking to confirm or acquire citizenship. In 2009, with the encouragement of UNHCR, the government adopted a national action plan to prevent and reduce statelessness. In 2011, the refugee agency will help revise the plan and take concrete steps to implement it. A concerted effort by all stakeholders is needed so that statelessness does not become a lingering problem for future generations.

Statelessness in Kyrgyzstan

The crisis in Kyrgyzstan

UNHCR was monitoring the returns of refugees and other displaced people to southern Kyrgyzstan as tens of thousands of people headed back to their communities. Violent clashes in Osh and other cities in southern Kyrgyzstan earlier this month had sent an estimated 300,000 fleeing to the countryside, while 100,000 had fled across the border into Uzbekistan.

Days after the attacks, Kyrgyz authorities were still trying to restore law and order in the south, where they reported that some 180 people were killed and 1,900 injured. Many of the internally displaced have been staying with host families with many also sleeping rough. In Uzbekistan, authorities reported more than 50 sites hosting refugees in the border provinces of Andijan, Ferghana and Namangan. Some refugees were staying in schools and other public buildings.

UNHCR has provided more than 300 tonnes of emergency assistance in a series of relief flights over the past week, working with the concerned governments and local partners in sometimes hazardous conditions.

The crisis in Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan: One Year OnPlay video

Kyrgyzstan: One Year On

A year ago, when violence erupted in Kyrgyzstan, Saliya and her family hid in their basement for three days as fighting raged overhead. Life is slowly returning to normal today.
Kyrgyzstan: The Need to RebuildPlay video

Kyrgyzstan: The Need to Rebuild

Thousands of displaced people in the town of Osh are struggling to rebuild their homes and their lives.
Kyrgzstan: On the MovePlay video

Kyrgzstan: On the Move

Violence in early June in southern Kyrgyzstan forced some 400,000 people to flee their homes. In the Jalal-Abad region, some discuss their experiences.