Over 10,000 Tajik refugees to become citizens in Turkmenistan

News Stories, 10 August 2005

© UNHCR/M.Shaikhulin
Growing up in exile in Turkmenistan, these young Tajik refugees will finally be able to call it home.

ASHGABAT, Turkmenistan, August 10 (UNHCR) Thousands of Tajik refugees have been granted citizenship in Turkmenistan, a move hailed by the UN refugee agency as a welcome solution for the ethnic-Turkmen refugees who had integrated locally over the years.

The President of Turkmenistan, Saparmurat Niyazov, signed a decree last Thursday granting Turkmen citizenship to 13,245 people of ethnic Turkmen origin, as well as people who had lived on land formerly rented to Uzbekistan, and others who had migrated to Turkmenistan for family or other reasons.

Among those granted citizenship were more than 10,000 ethnic-Turkmen Tajiks who fled civil war in Tajikistan between 1992 and 1997 and received prima facie refugee status in Turkmenistan. The decree also covered Turkmen Tajiks who arrived in 1998 and 1999.

"We are extremely happy and grateful to the Turkmen government for this generous decision. We have been working closely for the past 10 years to find a permanent durable solution for these refugees," said Annika Linden, UNHCR's chief of mission in the Turkmen capital, Ashgabat.

She explained that UNHCR has advocated for many years for the naturalisation of those refugees who qualified for nationality under the Turkmen Nationality Law. "It is wonderful now to see our cooperation bear fruit and citizenship for all becoming a reality," she added.

Generally seen as an asset to the host community, most of the Tajik refugees started building houses and cultivating land obtained from the government in the 1990s. Their children were given the right to attend and graduate from Turkmen schools.

UNHCR, which opened its office in Ashgabat in 1995, has been providing protection to the refugees and assisting the government to facilitate their local integration. Provincial authorities gave farming land to the refugees, the vast majority of whom became engaged in agricultural projects in rural settlements. UNHCR contributed agricultural equipment such as tractors, bulldozers, electric transformers and water pumps to enhance their self-sufficiency. The agency also provided language classes for refugee children and vocational training for refugee youths and women, while building or upgrading public schools in rural areas. Summer camps and educational training were organised for refugee men and women.

"We always tried to make sure that these projects would benefit not only the targeted refugee communities, but also the surrounding local population," said Linden. "We believed this would facilitate the integration of the refugees into the wider community and allow them to adapt to Turkmenistan."

Today, UNHCR still runs a number of health projects in urban and rural areas of Turkmenistan. The agency has distributed over 40 medical aid kits to refugee communities around the country and helped maintain and repair more than 15 remote medical aid posts. Ten ambulances were donated to enhance the capacity of rural medical units. UNHCR, through its partners, also provides outpatient medical treatment and consultations to refugees, including referrals to state hospitals.

With the granting of citizenship, the Tajik refugees will enjoy the same rights as Turkmen citizens. Having been treated exceptionally well over the years by the Turkmen government, the vast majority of them plan to continue living and cultivating the land given to them from the start. Most refugee settlements are in Akhal (close to Ashgabat), Mary, Lebap and Balkal provinces.

Turkmenistan acceded to the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol in 1998, a year after it adopted a National Law on Refugees.