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UNHCR supports school, sanitation projects in Kyrgyz host communities

News Stories, 28 November 2008

© UNHCR/A.Plotnikov
Pre-school students in Ivanovka now have more space after their school was expanded.

IVANOVKA, Kyrgyzstan, November 28 (UNHCR) It's one of the most multi-cultural districts in rural Kyrgyzstan, home to local villagers, ethnic Kyrgyz returnees and former refugees from Tajikistan. For years, the people of Ivanovka in Chui province of northern Kyrgyzstan shared what they had with the newcomers, even as it strained their already limited resources.

To express its gratitude and to further support co-existence in the community, the UN refugee agency recently expanded a pre-school and opened a public bathhouse in Ivanovka. The opening ceremony last week was a big event attended by Kyrgyz Deputy Prime Minister Elmira Ibrahimova; the chairperson of the State Committee for Migration and Employment, Aigul Ryskulova; UNHCR Representative Hans Schodder; and members of the refugee-run organisation, Sairon.

"This construction is the result of High Commissioner António Guterres' visit exactly a year ago," said Schodder. "He allocated an additional US$200,000 to enhance our work in the country. Half of the funds were used for business start-up grants to support the local integration of Afghan and Chechen refugees in Bishkek. The other half was spent here."

Before the construction, there were not enough seats in Ivanovka's pre-school. Children were divided into three shifts of lessons through the day. The building's recent extension has provided more space for both teachers and students. And until recently, the villagers didn't have their own public bathhouse and had to go to neighbouring villages to wash themselves.

Among those who benefited from the projects are Ivanovka original residents, Kayrlymans ethnic Kyrgyz who returned from the region after the country declared independence in 1991 as well as stateless people and former refugees from Tajikistan.

In the early 1990s, more than 20,000 refugees arrived in the Kyrgyz Republic after fleeing the civil war in Tajikistan. The majority chose to return home when the situation stabilized, but some preferred to stay and continue their lives in Kyrgyzstan. By spring of this year, the Kyrgyz government had successfully naturalized all the remaining 9,500 Tajik refugees through accelerated procedures.

Since 1996, UNHCR has spent US$4 million on assistance to Tajik refugees in Kyrgyzstan. These funds improved their access to medical care and education, but also provided agricultural loans and small business grants. In addition, UNHCR funded infrastructure projects for communities hosting returnees or stateless people, including the renovation and expansion of several schools, the construction of rural clinics and social centres, as well as the installation of energy and water supply systems.

Kyrgyzstan currently hosts over 1,000 asylum seekers and refugees, more than half of them from Afghanistan.

Another group of concern to UNHCR are the stateless people. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 led to mass population movements across shifting borders. As a result of conflicting laws and requirements of residency registration, some people did not have valid documents and became de facto stateless.

Since 2001, Kyrgyzstan, with the support of UNHCR, has greatly improved its legislation and administrative mechanisms to prevent and reduce statelessness. More than 10,000 stateless people have received Kyrgyz citizenship.

The UN refugee agency has been supporting small community-based projects to prevent and reduce statelessness in the north of Kyrgyzstan. In recent months, the agency has also embarked on a comprehensive survey of the problem in the south. These findings will be used next year to approach donors with project proposals to support civil society and authorities in granting Kyrgyz citizenship to several thousand stateless people.

"Restarting life in completely new conditions is not an easy task for people who face various integration problems," said Schodder. "UNHCR in cooperation with the government of the Kyrgyz Republic will continue to assist refugees and new citizens by supporting access to medical services, education and self-reliance opportunities."

By Cholpon Sultanova in Ivanovka, Kyrgyzstan




UNHCR country pages

UN Conventions on Statelessness

The two UN statelessness conventions are the key legal instruments in the protection of stateless people around the world.

State Action on Statelessness

Action taken by states, including follow-up on pledges made at UNHCR's 2011 ministerial meeting in Geneva.

Vector and Pest Contol in Refugee Situations, 1997

A joint collaboration between UNHCR and WHO, the manual provides information to vector control personnel focusing on operations in East Africa.

Water Manual for Refugee Situations, 1992

The manual explains technical characteristics and functioning of refugee water supply system.

Excreta Disposal in Emergencies

A field manual for engineers and non-technical staff responsible for sanitation planning, management and intervention in emergencies.

Public Health

The health of refugees and other displaced people is a priority for UNHCR.

Water, Sanitation and Hygiene

Provision of clean water and sanitation services to refugees is of special importance.

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

Findings of surveys commissioned by UNHCR, Bishkek 2009.


Education is vital in restoring hope and dignity to young people driven from their homes.

DAFI Scholarships

The German-funded Albert Einstein German Academic Refugee Initiative provides scholarships for refugees to study in higher education institutes in many countries.

Stateless People

Millions of stateless people are left in a legal limbo, with limited basic rights.

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

Statelessness in the Dominican Republic

In the Dominican Republic, UNHCR runs programmes that benefit refugees and asylum-seekers from Haiti as well as migrants and members of their family born in the country, some of whom could be stateless or at risk of becoming stateless. Many live in bateyes, which are destitute communities on once thriving sugar cane plantations. The inhabitants have been crossing over from Haiti for decades to work in the sugar trade.

Among these initiatives, UNHCR provides legal aid, academic remedial courses and vocational training for refugees and asylum-seekers. They also support entrepreneurial initiatives and access to micro credit.

UNHCR also has an increased presence in border communities in order to promote peaceful coexistence between Dominican and Haitian populations. The UN refugee agency has found that strengthening the agricultural production capacities of both groups promotes integration and mitigates tension.

Many Haitians and Dominicans living in the dilapidated bateyes are at risk of statelessness. Stateless people are not considered as nationals by any country. This can result in them having trouble accessing and exercising basic rights, including education and medical care as well as employment, travel and housing. UNHCR aims to combat statelessness by facilitating the issuance of birth certificates for people living in the bateyes.

Statelessness in the Dominican Republic

Statelessness and Women

Statelessness can arise when citizenship laws do not treat men and women equally. Statelessness bars people from rights that most people take for granted such as getting a job, buying a house, travelling, opening a bank account, getting an education, accessing health care. It can even lead to detention.

In some countries, nationality laws do not allow mothers to confer nationality to their children on an equal basis as fathers and this creates the risk that these children will be left stateless. In others, women cannot acquire, change or retain their nationality on an equal basis as men. More than 40 countries still discriminate against women with respect to these elements.

Fortunately, there is a growing trend for states to remedy gender discrimination in their nationality laws, as a result of developments in international human rights law and helped by vigorous advocacy from women's rights groups. The women and children depicted here have faced problems over nationality.

Statelessness and Women

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