Kazakhstan hosted an estimated 20,000 refugees and asylum seekers at the end of 2000. A majority, some 12,000, were Chechens from the Russian Federation. There were also about 5,000 Tajiks (mostly ethnic Kazakhs), 2,500 Afghans, and some 500 others of various nationalities, including Palestinians and ethnic Uyghurs from China.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) assisted 10,073 of the refugees in Kazakhstan, including 6,116 Chechens from the Russian Federation, 2,460 Afghans, and 1,456 Tajiks. The agency lacked the funds to assist many of the other 10,000 refugees in Kazakhstan, some of whom were registered as refugees while others were without legal status.
During the year, 5,823 persons applied for asylum in Kazakhstan, including 5,628 Chechens from the Russian Federation, 175 Afghans, and 20 others of various nationalities. Also in 2000, some 377 Tajiks repatriated to Tajikistan through a voluntary repatriation program sponsored by UNHCR.
Kazakhstan acceded to the UN Refugee Convention and Protocol in 1999. Kazakhstan was the fourth of the five Central Asian republics of the former Soviet Union – along with Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkmenistan – to ratify the Convention.
Kazakhstan permits refugees of most nationalities to apply for asylum through the Kazakhstan National Status Determination Commission in the Agency for Migration and Demography (AMD). The AMD established a refugee determination and appeal process in April 1998.
Because of its delicate political relationship with its powerful neighbor, the Russian Federation, Kazakhstan applies different procedures for asylum seekers from the Russian Federation. The Ministry of Interior registers refugees from Russian Federation, granting them de facto refugee status. This de facto status enables them to remain in Kazakhstan under UNHCR protection until it is safe for them to return home. This special procedure applies to Chechens who are citizens of the Russian Federation.
For similar political reasons, Kazakhstan also bars nationals of China from its asylum determination procedure. It does not, however, have procedures in place for asylum seekers from China similar to those for asylum seekers from the Russian Federation.
In recent years, Kazakhstan has received an unknown number of ethnic Uyghur asylum seekers from China. They have fled repression of the Uyghur minority by the Chinese authorities. According to the U.S. State Department, many Chinese Uyghurs avoid identification and settle among the local Kazakhstani Uyghur community. However, according to UNHCR, Uyghurs who feel particularly threatened sometimes seek protection from UNHCR, which has granted some of them refugee status under its mandate. UNHCR seeks resettlement in third countries for Chinese Uyghur refugees who it feels cannot remain safely in Kazakhstan.
Following its independence in 1991, Kazakhstan invited ethnic Kazakhs who had migrated or been forced to leave the country over previous decades to return "home." More than 182,000 did so. Kazakhstan has granted only about 10 to 14 percent of them Kazakh citizenship. The rest remain stateless. UNHCR, which has a mandate to seek to reduce statelessness, has expressed concern about this population. However, UNHCR reports that it is unable to undertake any activities to try to help the stateless Kazakhs acquire citizenship or otherwise resolve their statelessness because it lacks the funds to do so.