UN refugee agency salutes Kyrgyz hospitality
BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan, Sept 1 (UNHCR) - More than 50 Tajik refugees have taken Kyrgyz citizenship in a ceremony marking the third anniversary of a presidential decree that has helped more than 3,500 long-time refugees obtain Kyrgyz nationality.
Kyrgyzstan's First Deputy Prime Minister, Kurmanbek Osmonov, represented President Askar Akaev at the citizenship ceremony on August 29, marking three years to the day since the decree was signed allowing ethnic Kyrgyz refugees to become naturalised citizens.
On behalf of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Ekber Menemencioglu, director of the agency's bureau for Central and South West Asia, North Africa, and the Middle East (CASWANAME), thanked Kyrgyzstan for adopting policies and practices that have enabled refugees to integrate.
Menemencioglu, on a two-day official visit to the mountainous Central Asian state, said that Kyrgyzstan's progressive approach towards refugees was extraordinary, comparing President Askaev's presidential decree to the generous citizenship initiatives open to refugees living in industrialised western countries.
Speaking to the crowd gathered in the State Historical Museum, Menemencioglu expressed gratitude to President Akaev for what he said was an "innovative approach and personal commitment to find lasting humanitarian solutions for refugees."
He thanked the people of the Kyrgyz Republic for the warm welcome they have given to refugees, telling the government officials and audience that the Kyrgyz people have made the refugees feel at home after being forced into exile by war.
Also present at the citizenship ceremony was Kyrgyzstan's Minister of Foreign Affairs Askar Aitmatov and Interior Minister Bakirdin Subanbekov. Last year, President Akaev himself lent his support to the citizenship effort by turning out for a citizenship ceremony.
The Tajik refugees, who arrived in Kyrgyzstan between 1992 and 1996, flipped excitedly through the pages of their light blue passports following the citizenship ceremony in which each one was greeted on stage by officials from the Kyrgyz government and UNHCR.
Many of those present wore colourful national costumes for the ceremony, including UNHCR's Menemencioglu, who donned a typical cap and cape for pictures with the jubilant former refugees.
Kyrgyzstan hosts some 7,000 refugees, including more than 5,900 Tajiks, 830 Afghans and some 400 Russians. While some 2,000 Tajiks have opted to repatriate in recent years, the number returning home has waned as the Bishkek government eased the naturalisation process.
Kyrgyzstan and neighbouring Tajikistan recently agreed that all Tajik citizens, not only ethnic Kyrgyz, may benefit from a simplified procedure for the renunciation of nationality and the simultaneous acquisition of Kyrgyzstan citizenship.
The agreement, accepted by the Kyrgyz parliament in June, is expected to speed up the process of acquiring citizenship for Tajik refugees through the end of this year and into 2004.