Last Updated: Friday, 21 October 2016, 12:24 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2002 - Tajikistan

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 10 June 2002
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2002 - Tajikistan , 10 June 2002, available at: [accessed 21 October 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

At the end of 2001, Tajikistan hosted 4,638 refugees and asylum seekers, nearly all Afghans. Although the U.S. Committee for Refugees (USCR) does not count the 12,000 Afghans living on islands in the Pianj River that form the border between Tajikistan and Afghanistan to be refugees in Tajik territory, USCR does count them as cases of involuntary return for having been pushed back at the frontier to possible danger and persecution and denied the right to seek asylum in Tajikistan.

Tajikistan is a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention, and the Tajik Constitution provides for the granting of asylum to refugees. Tajik law grants refugees the right to work and move freely throughout the country, conferring responsibility for registering refugees to the State Migration Service (SMS) within the Ministry of Labor. Several government resolutions suspended refugee status determinations in 2001, however. About 720 asylum seekers (mostly Afghans) applied for refugee status during the year, but because of the government resolutions, none was granted asylum. The SMS issued temporary identity cards to the asylum seekers.

More than 40,000 Tajiks were refugees in neighboring countries, including about 30,000 in Uzbekistan and almost 12,500 in Turkmenistan. No information was available on the number of Tajiks still internally displaced from the civil war that ended in 1997.

Tajik Refugees

Following its independence from the former Soviet Union in 1991, Tajikistan became embroiled in a deadly civil war that left 50,000 to 100,000 dead, hastened the exodus of non-Tajik minorities, caused tens of thousands of Tajiks to flee to neighboring countries, and left as much as 85 percent of the country's population living in poverty. The civil war ended in 1997, and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) undertook a major effort to help Tajikistan rebuild, mainly through return programs for refugees and displaced persons.

Since 1997, UNHCR has helped more than 15,000 Tajiks return to their original homes. In 2001, more than 2,300 Tajiks returned to Tajikistan (almost 1,200 from Kyrgyzstan, 900 from Kazakhstan, and 300 from Turkmenistan). UNHCR gave returnees a cash grant equivalent to $20 and a reintegration package. The refugee agency also rehabilitated houses, schools, and clinics. The World Food Program provided returnees food aid, while the Tajik government initiated a program that provided returnees and formerly displaced persons up to $200 (300,000 Tajik rubles) in credit, payable over 20 years.

Afghan Refugees

In May, the mayor of Dushanbe, the capital, told Afghan refugees that they had to leave the city by July 31, the second time the mayor had issued such an order since July 2000. As happened the first time, protests by foreign governments and international organizations convinced the mayor to rescind the order.

In response to fighting between Afghanistan's ruling Taliban and opposition forces in northern Afghanistan (Northern Alliance), about 10,000 Afghan asylum seekers, mostly of Tajik and Uzbek ethnicity, tried to flee to Tajikistan in the autumn of 2000. However, when Tajik authorities refused to open the border, the asylum seekers became trapped on islands in the Pianj River that separate Afghanistan and Tajikistan. Government authorities claimed that a new influx of Afghan refugees would harm Tajikistan economically and socially, also voicing fears that many of the asylum seekers were Northern Alliance combatants. In addition to living in poor conditions, the asylum seekers – and relief workers – were under constant danger from shelling by the Taliban. Because of their proximity to the Taliban front line, the islands were largely inaccessible to humanitarian workers for much of 2001. The Afghans on the islands reportedly suffered from malnutrition, evidenced by reported cases of scurvy, which is caused by vitamin deficiencies. Nevertheless, throughout 2001, the number of Afghans on the islands continued to grow as the situation in Afghanistan became more intense. By the end of the year, about 12,000 Afghans still lived on the islands.

In March, UNHCR suspended assistance operations to the asylum seekers on the Pianj River islands after the agency discovered that some of its relief aid was being intercepted by combatants. The agency resumed its operations in May once the Tajik government had moved the asylum seekers to a safer location (still on islands in the river), separated the combatants from the civilians, and guaranteed relief workers unrestricted access to the asylum seekers.

Since the Afghan asylum seekers were located on islands that were not easily identifiable as part of Tajikistan or Afghanistan, the Tajik government and UNHCR could not agree on the status of the Afghans. Tajikistan considered them outside its borders and therefore as internally displaced within Afghanistan. UNHCR, however, considered them refugees outside of Afghanistan, and thus under the refugee agency's mandate. USCR does not consider these Afghans to have entered Tajik territory, but rather that Tajikistan committed refoulement – the forced return or expulsion of refugees – by pushing them away from its frontier and thus exposing them to life-threatening danger.

In November, USCR sent a letter to the Tajik government that urged Tajikistan to "permit regulated entry of refugees seeking protection" and to facilitate delivery of humanitarian aid.

(In March 2002, at least 2,000 of the Afghans stranded on the island known as Site 13 returned to their home villages in Kunduz Province, northern Afghanistan. A larger group, numbering about 10,000, remained on the Pianj River island known as Site 9.)

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