UNHCR established its offices in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan in 1993, and later in Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic and Turkmenistan in 1995 in response to the 1992-93 civil war in Tajikistan and war in northern Afghanistan that had displaced thousands of people. Since their independence in 1991, Central Asian countries have been a home to nearly 100,000 refugees and persons in refugee-like situation.
In 1996, amidst growing concern about the potential of exacerbated population movements in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), UNHCR convened the CIS Conference at the request of the UN General Assembly and established a framework to address the problems of refugees, displacement and returnees which had a wide participation not only from CIS countries but also other countries as well as inter-governmental agencies such as the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
As these displacement situations have gradually subsided and the refugee and internally displaced populations have reduced, the focus of UNHCR operation gradually shifted from emergency response to the one characterized by advocacy and capacity building to assist the governments to establish an effective asylum system. To this end, UNHCR assisted the governments in drafting refugee law, conducted relevant training events for relevant authorities, produced a training manual for border officials , established regional guidelines on referral of asylum-seekers at the borders of Central Asia in collaboration with government experts , and handed over the responsibility of refugee status determination to the States in an incremental manner in Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.
Central Asia is also home to a considerable stateless population. Statelessness in Central Asia is largely a result of the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. While many were able to confirm or acquire the nationality of the successor states, some others have been unable to do so despite having had a link to a newly independent state partly due to gaps in the nationality laws. Subsequently, although significant progress has been made since independence, statelessness continues to affect the lives of many people, compounded by migratory movements, the lack of adequate safeguards in citizenship laws, and gaps in birth registration procedures.
UNHCR has supported the efforts of the governments to address statelessness through raising awareness and analyzing the laws governing citizenship issues for policy advocacy since the 1990s.