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

• DONATE NOW •

 

• GET INVOLVED • • STAY INFORMED •

UNHCR country pages

State Action on Statelessness

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

UN Conventions on Statelessness

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

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 Sri Lanka: Hill Tamils

Most of the people working on the hundreds of tea plantations that dot Sri Lanka's picturesque hill country are descended from ethnic Tamils brought from India between 1820 and 1840 when the island was under British colonial rule. Although these people, known as "Hill Tamils," have been making an invaluable contribution to Sri Lanka's economy for almost two centuries, up until recently the country's stringent citizenship laws made it next to impossible for them to berecognized as citizens. Without the proper documents they could not vote, hold a government job, open a bank account or travel freely.

The Hill Tamils have been the subject of a number of bilateral agreements in the past giving them the option between Sri Lankan and Indian citizenship. But in 2003, there were still an estimated 300,000 stateless people of Indian origin living in Sri Lanka.

Things improved markedly, in October 2003, after the Sri Lankan parliament passed the "Grant of Citizenship to People of Indian Origin Act," which gave nationality to people who had lived in Sri Lanka since 1964 and to their descendants. UNHCR, the government of Sri Lanka and local organizations ran an information campaign informing Hill Tamils about the law and the procedures for acquiring citizenship. With more than 190,000 of the stateless people in Sri Lanka receiving citizenship over a 10-day period in late 2003, this was heralded as a huge success story in the global effort to reduce statelessness.

Also, in 2009, the parliament passed amendments to existing regulations, granting citizenship to refugees who fled Sri Lanka's conflict and are living in camps in India. This makes it easier for them to return to Sri Lanka if they so wish to.

Statelessness in Sri Lanka: Hill Tamils

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: A Message from UNHCRPlay video

Statelessness: A Message from UNHCR

An address from UNHCR's Director of International Protection Volker Türk to mark International Human Rights Day and the launch of a new report on Statelessness in the United States.
UNHCR : Breakthrough on StatelessnessPlay video

UNHCR : Breakthrough on Statelessness

UNHCR's ministerial conference in Geneva takes a great step forward in resolving the issue of statelessness. On the sidelines of the meeting, Serbia and Turkmenistan acceded to the statelessness conventions.