UNHCR and Tajikistan agree on integration of refugees

News Stories, 2 April 2008

© UNHCR/G.Gubaeva
Come Dancing: High Commissioner António Guterres (right) gets some cultural entertainment in Dushanbe.

DUSHANBE, Tajikistan, April 2 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency and the government of Tajikistan have agreed to strengthen their cooperation and open the door for the integration of some 1,000 Afghans who have been refugees in the Central Asian country for up to 20 years.

These goals were enshrined in a joint communiqué signed on Monday by Tajik Foreign Minister Hamrokhon Zarifi and UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres, who kicked off a four-day visit to Tajikistan earlier that day.

UNHCR and Tajikistan stressed that refugees who had been in the country for a long time could apply to the authorities "for permanent residence as well as for Tajik citizenship." Some 1,000 Afghan refugees have been in Tajikistan since the late 1980s and the 1990s.

They also announced measures aimed at making the refugees more self-sufficient. The communiqué said the two sides would jointly "arrange and conduct training courses for refugees on professional and technical education, corresponding to labour market demands as well as to arrange Tajik and Russian [language] training courses for refugees and their children."

They also supported efforts by UNHCR, working with international organizations, to improve health care and educational facilities used by refugees and locals.

Guterres also discussed Tajikistan's national refugee legislation during meetings Monday with senior officials, including President Emomali Rahmon, Minister Zarifi, Minister of Labor and Social Protection Shukurjon Zuhurov and Minister of Internal Affairs Mahmadnazar Salikhov.

The High Commissioner told Rahmon that Tajikistan had achieved positive results in developing an asylum system and protecting refugees. "Tajikistan is a unique example of successful post-conflict management and the fact that there are no more Tajik refugees is the best example of such management," he said, referring to the displacement of Tajik citizens during the 1992-97 civil war.

"And now, Tajik people ... extend their generosity to others who need protection," he noted, adding: "I hope that the experience of Tajikistan will be well recognized and acknowledged by the international community."

Aside from calling on officials, the High Commissioner met on Wednesday with the refugee agency's local NGO partners and talked to refugees during the opening of a UNHCR-funded training centre for refugees.

UNHCR, through its implementing partner, Fidokor, has put refugees and needy Tajiks through hairdressing, sewing, bread-making, computer sciences and driving courses in government-run vocational training centres. Fidokor also provides seminars for graduates of these courses on how to start a business.

The refugees told Guterres about the challenges they faced, including high unemployment and low wages as well as high prices and rents. The High Commissioner said he hoped the new skills they learned at such centres would help them earn enough to become independent.

UNHCR opened an office in Tajikistan in 1993, when the country was torn by civil war two years after the country declared its independence from the Soviet Union. That year, Tajikistan became the first country in Central Asia to accede to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol. It was also the first country in the region to adopt national refugee legislation.

UNHCR has helped people displaced by the civil war to return home as well as assisting refugees. Tajikistan currently hosts 1,710 refugees and asylum seekers, mostly from Afghanistan.

This is the third mission the High Commissioner has made to Central Asia, following his visits to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan in November last year. He is also planning to visit Turkmenistan in the near future.

By Galiya Gubaeva in Dushanbe, Tajikistan