For teachers - ages 15-18 in History: Population Displacement in the Commonwealth of Independent States
Teaching Tools, 18 March 2007
UNHCR publication for CIS Conference, May 1996
The full name of this conference (held in Geneva on 30-31 May 1996) is "Regional Conference to Address the Problems of Refugees, Displaced Persons, Other Forms of Involuntary Displacement and Returnees in the Countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States and Relevant Neighboring States." For the sake of brevity, it is referred to in these articles as the CIS Conference.
- About this publication
- Forced to move by war or circumstance
The disintegration of the Soviet Union has given rise to the largest, most complex, involuntary movements of people since World War II. Some 9 million people have left their homes in CIS countries for a variety of reasons, several of them unique to the region.
- Punished peoples: the mass deportations of the 1940s
Between 1936 and 1952, 3 million people were rounded up from their homes along the USSR's western borders and dumped thousands of miles away in Siberia and Central Asia. Fifty years later, some are still trying to get back.
- Central Asia on the move
Central Asia is an astonishing ethnic mosaic, partly as a result of the deportations and other large influxes during the Soviet period. The region has experienced one civil war, and two smaller inter-ethnic conflicts. Because of these and other pressures, around one in 12 of the region's inhabitants has moved since 1989.
- Orphans of the USSR: the return of the Slavs
When the Soviet Union broke up, some 34 million Russians, Ukranians and Belarusians, no longer sure whether they were at home or abroad, began to feel insecure in the newly independent republics where they were residing. By 1996, over 3 million had returned to their ethnic homelands, creating severe economic strains at both ends.
- Conflicts in the Caucasus
The Caucasus has experienced five major conflicts, creating more than 2 million refugees and internally displaced people. While most of the conflicts are relatively quiescent, none of them appears close to finding a lasting solution. Hundreds of thousands continue to live in temporary shelter.
- Ecological disasters: the human cost
The USSR left behind numerous heavily contaminated or polluted industrial, agricultural and nuclear sites. The three worst hit areas – Chernobyl, the Aral Sea and the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site – have already produced more than 700,000 ecological migrants, as well as very serious health concerns for those who remain.
- Transit migrants and trafficking
Large numbers of illegal immigrants and transit migrants – at least 450,000 in the Russian Federation alone – present a completely new phenomenon for the CIS countries, and are potentially destabilizing. Trafickers exploit the situation by charging large sums to refugees and economic migrants desperate to reach the West.
- In legal limbo: asylum-seekers and statelessness
Asylum-seekers from non-CIS countries are also by and large new to the region. At the time of independence, none of the CIS countries had suitable systems to cope with them according to international norms. Other groups, which have fallen into a similar legal vacuum, are at present effectively stateless.
- The CIS Conference on Refugees and Migrants
The CIS Conference process is the first attempt by the international community to grapple comprehensively with the huge, unprecedentedly complex and destabilizing movements taking place in the countries of the CIS.