Statelessness: More than 3,000 stateless people given Turkmen nationality

News Stories, 7 December 2011

© UNHCR/B.Baloch
A stateless woman proudly holds her new Turkmenistan passport at a ceremony last month in Ashgabat.

DASHOGUZ, Turkmenistan, December 7 (UNHCR) As soon as she was handed her citizenship papers, Guljahan Egenova began thinking excitedly about the whole new future ahead of her. "I am proud," said the pretty 24-year-old during a recent ceremony in the northern Turkmenistan city of Dashoguz.

She had been stateless since 1995, when her parents moved to Turkmenistan. "With my new nationality, I get the right to pursue higher studies, I get the right to vote and I will be able to travel freely," the young woman said, with a big smile.

Guljahan was one of 20,000 people registered as stateless under two special drives conducted by the Turkmen government and the UN refugee agency since 2007. More than 3,000 of them were granted citizenship of Turkmenistan under two presidential decrees issued earlier this year.

Most of those registered were left stateless after the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991. They originated from places like Armenia, Azerbaijan, Moldova, the Russian Federation, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Without citizenship, they did not enjoy many of the basic human rights that most people take for granted.

Last month, the State Migration Service of Turkmenistan arranged ceremonies in the capital, Ashgabat, and in Dashoguz, to hand over passports to some of the new citizens. As the men and women walked up to collect their new travel documents, young girls in traditional embroidered dresses and round colourful caps gave them bouquets.

Some had been registered as stateless during the last government-led registration drive from May to July. More than 20 teams, gathering Turkmen officials, UNHCR staff and members of a local non-governmental organization, Keik Okara, toured the country and registered some 8,000 people as stateless. In 2007, about 5,000 were recorded as stateless. An additional 7,000 children under the age of 18 were registered as stateless with their parents.

This year's exercise was preceded by a massive information campaign in all five provinces of Turkmenistan. After each registration drive, Turkmen authorities conduct a thorough check to make sure individuals are not nationals of any other country, and this stateless.

Turkmenistan's President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov issued decrees in July and October this year conferring nationality on more than 3,000 people whose statelessness status had been verified. More people are expected to get citizenship once their statelessness status has been verified.

Batyr Sapbiyev, a UNHCR protection officer in Ashgabat, praised the government for its "outstanding humanitarian act" and added that "this work continues as there are more applications for citizenship from stateless people."

UNHCR-funded legal clinics in Ashgabat and the provinces have been organized to offer advice to these people.

Elviva Oranzur, a mother of two, is among those who have applied for Turkmen nationality. She said that being stateless is "like being caged or put in a box. You cannot register your marriage. If I want to study I cannot. It feels like you are nobody," she told UNHCR in Ashgabat.

The 25-year-old was born in Russia in 1986 to a Russian mother and a Turkmen father. The family moved to Turkmenistan a year later, but her father returned to Russia and disappeared from their lives. When the Soviet Union broke up in 1991, Elviva and her two brothers became stateless.

But now she sees her dreams of citizenship coming closer. "The first thing that I would do is to register my marriage," she said, adding: "This would give me all the more joy because my children will also receive nationality."

Meanwhile, Turkmenistan will underscore its commitment to helping those who remain stateless in the country by acceding later Wednesday to the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons. The treaty event will come at a landmark UNHCR-run ministerial conference in Geneva.

By Babar Baloch in Dashoguz, Turkmenistan




UNHCR country pages

Stateless People

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

Ending Statelessness

Governments resolve and prevent statelessness by taking practical steps as set out in the Global Action Plan.

State Action on Statelessness

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


Sign and share our Open Letter to End Statelessness by 2024.

Global Roundtable on Alternatives to Detention of Asylum-Seekers, Refugees, Migrants and Stateless Persons

Summary Conclusions of the first Global Roundtable on Alternatives to Detention, held in May 2011 in Geneva

Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons; Its History and Interpretation

A Commentary by Nehemiah Robinson of the Institute of Jewish Affairs at the 1955 World Jewish Congress, re-printed by UNHCR's Division of International Protection in 1997

UN Conventions on Statelessness

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

Statelessness Around the World

At least 10 million people in the world today are stateless. They are told that they don't belong anywhere. They are denied a nationality. And without one, they are denied their basic rights. From the moment they are born they are deprived of not only citizenship but, in many cases, even documentation of their birth. Many struggle throughout their lives with limited or no access to education, health care, employment, freedom of movement or sense of security. Many are unable to marry, while some people choose not to have children just to avoid passing on the stigma of statelessness. Even at the end of their lives, many stateless people are denied the dignity of a death certificate and proper burial.

The human impact of statelessness is tremendous. Generations and entire communities can be affected. But, with political will, statelessness is relatively easy to resolve. Thanks to government action, more than 4 million stateless people acquired a nationality between 2003 and 2013 or had their nationality confirmed. Between 2004 and 2014, twelve countries took steps to remove gender discrimination from their nationality laws - action that is vital to ensuring children are not left stateless if their fathers are stateless or unable to confer their nationality. Between 2011 and 2014, there were 42 accessions to the two statelessness conventions - indication of a growing consensus on the need to tackle statelessness. UNHCR's 10-year Campaign to End Statelessness seeks to give impetus to this. The campaign calls on states to take 10 actions that would bring a definitive end to this problem and the suffering it causes.

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Statelessness Around the World

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 Viet Nam

Viet Nam's achievements in granting citizenship to thousands of stateless people over the last two years make the country a global leader in ending and preventing statelessness.

Left stateless after the 1975 collapse of the bloody Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia, nearly 1,400 former Cambodian refugees received citizenship in Viet Nam in 2010, the culmination of five years of cooperation between the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the Vietnamese government. Most of the former refugees have lived in Viet Nam since 1975, all speak Vietnamese and have integrated fully. Almost 1,000 more are on track to get their citizenship in the near future. With citizenship comes the all-important family registration book that governs all citizens' interactions with the government in Viet Nam, as well as a government identification card. These two documents allow the new citizens to purchase property, attend universities and get health insurance and pensions. The documents also allow them to do simple things they could not do before, such as own a motorbike.

Viet Nam also passed a law in 2009 to restore citizenship to Vietnamese women who became stateless in the land of their birth after they married foreign men, but divorced before getting foreign citizenship for them and their children.

UNHCR estimates that up to 12 million people around the world are currently stateless.

Statelessness in Viet Nam

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