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Kyrgyzstan: resettlement of Afghans to Canada

Briefing notes

Kyrgyzstan: resettlement of Afghans to Canada

13 July 2004

A steady flow of Afghan refugees has started leaving Kyrgyzstan for a new life in Canada under a landmark group resettlement plan that is expected to largely end a humanitarian problem that had defied solution for years. Three or four Afghan families are expected to depart for Canada today, following the first six individuals who arrived there last Tuesday. The departures will continue until a total of 525 refugees accepted for resettlement by the Canadian government leave Kyrgyzstan before the end of the year.

A number of Afghans had sought refuge in Kyrgyzstan as war raged in their homeland over the past quarter century. Some had been able to return over the years, but many were unlikely to ever feel safe to go home. In addition, none had been locally integrated so far, the second choice of UNHCR for resolving the predicament of a refugee.

Some had been students in Kyrgyzstan when war raged against Soviet forces in Afghanistan in the 1980s, others were associated with the leftist Najibullah government that was overthrown in 1992, and a final wave fled when the Taliban seized Kabul in 1996.

That left only the solution of resettlement in a third country, a sometimes lengthy procedure which is normally conducted family by family. But Canadian authorities responded quickly when UNHCR suggested an innovative look at the whole group of 650 Afghan refugees who were still in Kyrgyzstan. Canadian officials from the embassy in Moscow flew to Kyrgyzstan and carried out individual appraisals, accepting almost all the refugees.

After the group resettlement to Canada is completed later this year, the Kyrgyz government will re-examine the cases of those few remaining. At that point some refugees might opt for voluntary repatriation back to Afghanistan and the residual caseload might be allowed to apply for Kyrgyz citizenship.

This special resettlement project for Afghan refugees in Kyrgyzstan is part of UNHCR's larger strategic goal to find solutions for all of the refugee groups in Kyrgyzstan and elsewhere in Central Asia. UNHCR has, for example, assisted over 3,200 Tajik refugees to become naturalized Kyrgyz citizens in the past three years. We continue to work towards our goal of another 3,000 new naturalizations by Tajik refugees before the end of this year. If this goes according to plan, the problems of Tajik refugees in Kyrgyzstan will also largely be solved.

Canadian diplomats are already planning to examine Afghan refugee cases in neighbouring Tajikistan later this year, using the model developed in Kyrgyzstan.