The end of statelessness means a fresh start for an ‘invisible’ family

Imagine a 30 year-long life with a feeling of being ‘invisible’ or not belonging anywhere.

Three sisters, Dariha, Kamesh and Daniya, had the exact same life experience. They were born in Omsk region, the former Soviet Union, in 1984, 1986 and respectively 1988. In 1990, when the eldest sister was only 6 years old, together with their mother they moved to a small village in Northern Kazakhstan. The only identity documents they had were their damaged and now invalid Soviet Union birth certificates. In Kazakhstan, they had completed only 9 years of school and, since being undocumented put many restrictions on their lives, could not secure permanent jobs.

The sisters were not aware of the existing documentation procedures and never approached the local authorities or informed about difficulties caused by their status. Therefore, they could not prove ties to either country, thus having been labeled as “stateless”.

Their story became known for the first time during the state information campaign launched in 2018. The school social counselor of Zhainat, Dariha’s son, approached the Migration Service in order to assist the family. It was then established that Dariha and her sisters had no identity documents.

Migration authorities together with UNHCR legal partner “Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law” undertook a notable amount of work for acquiring the birth records and confirming officially that the family is not considered as citizens of the Russian Federation, opening the way for permanent solutions in Kazakhstan.

Only in 2020, after 30 years of residing in Kazakhstan, the three sisters were recognized as citizens of Kazakhstan and received identity documents for the first time. This case would have not been brought to light and found its positive solution if Zhainat’s situation had not arisen with follow-up attention of school staff.   Now the young boy is waiting for his identity document that would enable him to graduate school, an achievement difficult to even imagine for an undocumented person. He and his family can now pursue their dreams, fulfil their potential, move freely and enjoy all the rights as citizens. They can fulfil it all because they are not stateless anymore.

This is one of the many stories of statelessness in Kazakhstan; many people stuck in legal limbo and who live all their lives as if they are ‘invisible’ and don’t exist. Lack of valid identity documents restricts undocumented persons from accessing fundamental human rights such as the right to education, the right to work, the right to qualified medical aid and other social benefits.  In addition to that, it limits access to adequate housing thus making them vulnerable to become victims of human trafficking for sexual or labour exploitation, forced labour or slavery. Children born to stateless parents are at risk of being stateless as well.

Many people in similar situations don’t ask for help because of the lack of legal awareness, fear, financial situation or because they feel helpless and depressed.

UNHCR #IBelong Campaign aims to end statelessness within a decade, by resolving existing situations like this and advancing the efforts to prevent new cases of statelessness from occuring. In Kazakhstan, since the launch of the #IBelong Campaign in 2014, UNHCR and partners identified over 5,000 persons of undetermined nationality and successfully assisted over 15 hundred of them to finally ‘belong’ to a country.

Life of stateless people does not foresee any prospects or hope. But everyone has the right to nationality and to say: “I belong”.