News Stories, 31 March 2004
ASTANA, Kazakhstan, March 31 (UNHCR) – The UN refugee agency today opened an office in Kazakhstan's capital, Astana, a move that will help UNHCR build more partnerships to care for some 16,000 refugees and asylum seekers in the country.
Wednesday's opening ceremony was attended by a number of senior Kazakh government officials, including Talgat Unaibayev, Head of the International Organisations Unit at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Askar Nurymbetov, Head of the Interior Ministry's Department of International Cooperation; and Tungatar Baisagizov, Deputy Chief of the Migration Police's office for combating illegal immigration.
Meiram Zholtayevich Baigazin, Head of the Department on Refugees in the Agency for Migration and Demography, heralded the opening of UNHCR's newest office worldwide in a speech to the gathered diplomats, government and UN officials.
Officiating at the event, UNHCR's chief of mission in Kazakhstan, Yasuku Hanyu, said, "Since establishing our first presence in the country in 1996, UNHCR has worked with Kazakhstan's government to establish a functioning asylum system. Thanks to the opening of our office in the capital, we will be able to further strengthen our cooperation with the government of Kazakhstan on refugee and migration issues."
The new UNHCR office in Astana will complement an existing one in the old capital, Almaty. The UN refugee agency currently assists some 16,000 refugees and asylum seekers in Kazakhstan, mainly Russians, Afghans and Tajiks.
Last year, UNHCR and the Kazakh government's General Prosecutor's office started an electronic database for refugees, migrants and ethnic Kazakh returnees. The two parties are currently working to expand the database to provide relevant government agencies with a clearer record of refugees and other groups of concern, and to help UNHCR and its partners facilitate the tracking of protection problems and the processing of asylum claims.
"In the year ahead, UNHCR expects to build further partnerships with the relevant government and educational institutions dealing with refugee and migration matters as well as establishing firm linkages with non-governmental organisations and civil society throughout the various regions of Kazakhstan," Hanyu said. "Our newest office here in Astana will help to make this possible."
In recent years, UNHCR has worked with governments across Central Asia to help refugees voluntarily return to their countries of origin. It is also helping states establish programmes to naturalise refugees, allowing them to assume all the rights and obligations of their adopted homelands. At the same time, the agency is involved in developing initiatives to enable states to deal effectively and efficiently with asylum seekers and refugees.