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UN refugee agency salutes Kyrgyz hospitality

News Stories, 1 September 2003

© UNHCR Bishkek
Former Tajik refugees flipping through their new Kyrgyz passports.

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan, Sept 1 (UNHCR) More than 50 Tajik refugees have taken Kyrgyz citizenship in a ceremony marking the third anniversary of a presidential decree that has helped more than 3,500 long-time refugees obtain Kyrgyz nationality.

Kyrgyzstan's First Deputy Prime Minister, Kurmanbek Osmonov, represented President Askar Akaev at the citizenship ceremony on August 29, marking three years to the day since the decree was signed allowing ethnic Kyrgyz refugees to become naturalised citizens.

On behalf of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Ekber Menemencioglu, director of the agency's bureau for Central and South West Asia, North Africa, and the Middle East (CASWANAME), thanked Kyrgyzstan for adopting policies and practices that have enabled refugees to integrate.

Menemencioglu, on a two-day official visit to the mountainous Central Asian state, said that Kyrgyzstan's progressive approach towards refugees was extraordinary, comparing President Askaev's presidential decree to the generous citizenship initiatives open to refugees living in industrialised western countries.

Speaking to the crowd gathered in the State Historical Museum, Menemencioglu expressed gratitude to President Akaev for what he said was an "innovative approach and personal commitment to find lasting humanitarian solutions for refugees."

He thanked the people of the Kyrgyz Republic for the warm welcome they have given to refugees, telling the government officials and audience that the Kyrgyz people have made the refugees feel at home after being forced into exile by war.

Also present at the citizenship ceremony was Kyrgyzstan's Minister of Foreign Affairs Askar Aitmatov and Interior Minister Bakirdin Subanbekov. Last year, President Akaev himself lent his support to the citizenship effort by turning out for a citizenship ceremony.

The Tajik refugees, who arrived in Kyrgyzstan between 1992 and 1996, flipped excitedly through the pages of their light blue passports following the citizenship ceremony in which each one was greeted on stage by officials from the Kyrgyz government and UNHCR.

Many of those present wore colourful national costumes for the ceremony, including UNHCR's Menemencioglu, who donned a typical cap and cape for pictures with the jubilant former refugees.

Kyrgyzstan hosts some 7,000 refugees, including more than 5,900 Tajiks, 830 Afghans and some 400 Russians. While some 2,000 Tajiks have opted to repatriate in recent years, the number returning home has waned as the Bishkek government eased the naturalisation process.

Kyrgyzstan and neighbouring Tajikistan recently agreed that all Tajik citizens, not only ethnic Kyrgyz, may benefit from a simplified procedure for the renunciation of nationality and the simultaneous acquisition of Kyrgyzstan citizenship.

The agreement, accepted by the Kyrgyz parliament in June, is expected to speed up the process of acquiring citizenship for Tajik refugees through the end of this year and into 2004.

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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.