“Citizenship is what gives you pride, makes you glad, because it shows who you are, that you are part of this country”
Ulpan* moved from Uzbekistan to Kazakhstan in 2014 to continue her studies and find a job. Since then, she has been living in Shymkent, South Kazakhstan, with her husband and four children, three of whom were born in Kazakhstan.
On the road to Kazakhstan, Ulpan lost her Uzbek passport and failed to restore it. Without valid identity documents, she could not register her marriage or work, and was fully dependent on her husband. For a young woman who once studied and dreamt of having a career, the inability to work was frustrating.
Unable to present identity documents, when her children were born, Ulpan could not register their births. And without birth certificates – key documentation needed to establish nationality in the future – her children too were at risk of statelessness.
Without identity documents, she and her children were deprived from social welfare, healthcare, freedom of movement and other rights and services – including pre-school education for her children. Ulpan could not open a bank account, or even buy a SIM card. The impact of being undocumented was severe.
Statelessness in Kazakhstan
As of early 2023, 8,569 people are known to be stateless in Kazakhstan.
Kazakhstan hosts documented stateless people, as well stateless people who do not have documents – so-called ‘people with undetermined nationality’.
Documented stateless people have a “Stateless person’s certificate” from the government enabling them to stay in Kazakhstan, and access work, public services and healthcare.
People with undetermined nationality, like Ulpan and three of her children, are among the most vulnerable as they have no legal status and do not have access to most socio-economic rights – it is like they do not exist.
Invisible no more
After losing her documents, Ulpan had been desperately trying to get new ones.
In 2020, she learned about an organization – UNHCR’s partner Legal Center for Women’s Initiatives “Sana Sezim” – which provides free legal assistance to persons with undetermined nationality in South Kazakhstan.
After a process of more than two years to detail, document and eventually confirm her identity, in 2023, Ulpan was recognized as a stateless person and received an identity card. As a documented stateless person, Ulpan can access social assistance for her children, and eventually apply for Kazakhstani citizenship.
Following the 2019 amendments to Kazakhstan Code on Marriage (Matrimony) and Family, Sana Sezim lawyers were also able to help Ulpan’s children receive birth certificates through simplified procedures.
Ulpan now plans to find a job as a cook and visit her relatives in Uzbekistan – both impossible before.
For over a decade, Central Asian countries have made significant progress to reduce and prevent statelessness.
With generous support from UNHCR’s biggest donor, the U.S. government and the American People, and partners around the world, the global #IBelong campaign aims to end statelessness by 2024. Since the launch of the campaign in 2014, over 260,000 cases of stateless have been resolved across Central Asia – 17,821 in Kazakhstan.
Following this great progress, the next step for Kazakhstan would be to accede to the UN Statelessness Conventions, highlighting its regional leadership, and further demonstrating its commitment to protecting human rights. The universal implementation of the Conventions would end statelessness within a single generation.
For Ulpan, being documented and having citizenship means even more than being able to access basic rights and services. “Citizenship is what gives you pride, makes you glad,” says Ulpan. “Because it shows who you are, that you are part of this country.”
*Name changed at subject’s request
This story was originally published on UNHCR's Central Asia Website.