Kyrgyzstan hosted about 9,700 refugees in 2001, most of whom were from Tajikistan (8,400) and Afghanistan (850). Another 400 asylum seekers of various nationalities (mostly Chechens) had pending asylum claims at year's end.

During the year, some 380 persons applied for refugee status in Kyrgyzstan. Among them were 201 Afghans, 151 Chechens, and 28 Tajiks (most of whom have lived in Kyrgyzstan for many years). The State Agency of Migration and Demography, the Kyrgyz government agency responsible for refugees and asylum seekers, granted refugee status to 76 applicants (all Afghans), and rejected the claims of 94, a 45 percent approval rate. Although the Kyrgyz authorities usually determine the status of asylum seekers, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) conducts individual refugee status determinations in "exceptional" cases. In 2001, UNHCR recognized 84 refugees (83 from Afghanistan and 1 Uyghur from China), all of whom previously had been rejected by Kyrgyz authorities on "safe-third- country" grounds.

Afghan Refugees

Afghan refugees faced various barriers to asylum in Kyrgyzstan during 2002. Because Afghan asylum seekers must travel through other countries to apply for asylum in Kyrgyzstan, the authorities often rejected Afghan applications on safe-third-country grounds. According to UNHCR, undocumented Afghan asylum seekers were effectively denied the chance to appeal their claims because Kyrgyz courts did not accept appeal petitions from undocumented claimants. UNHCR reported that this policy placed undocumented Afghan asylum seekers in a state of legal limbo, leaving them vulnerable to police harassment and deportation.

After September 11, Kyrgyz authorities began to view Afghan refugees and asylum seekers with distrust, suspecting that Islamic extremists might be among them. Police reportedly detained many Afghans, including recognized refugees. Some Afghans claimed to have been beaten and threatened with deportation while in detention.

Refugees from Tajikistan

An estimated 90 to 95 percent of the refugees from Tajikistan were ethnic Kyrgyz who arrived in Kyrgyzstan after its independence in 1991 or following the outbreak of civil war in Tajikistan in 1992. UNHCR assisted some 1,190 ethnic Kyrgyz in repatriating to Tajikistan during the year, bringing the total number of returns to Tajikistan to about 5,000 since 1998.

Chechen Refugees

Some 372 Chechen asylum seekers resided in Kyrgyzstan during 2001. The government reportedly is reluctant to recognize Chechens as refugees for fear of harming Kyrgyz-Russian relations. Instead, the authorities maintain them as asylum seekers pending a status determination and reportedly will permit them to remain in the country until the conflict in Chechnya subsides.

Many Chechens first came to Kyrgyzstan in the 1940s, when Stalin deported nearly the entire Chechen population to Central Asia. Although many of the refugees returned to Chechnya in the 1980s, when conflict erupted in Chechnya during the 1990s, many fled back to Kyrgyzstan, where they still had family. Since September 11, Chechens, along with Afghan refugees, have been subject to detention.

Uyghurs from China

Although few ethnic Uyghurs from China have applied for asylum in Kyrgyzstan, their situation was of concern to UNHCR in 2001. According to Human Rights Watch, Kyrgyz authorities in previous years have forcibly returned a small number of Uyghurs to China, where members of the ethnic group have been subject to persecution. Because of bilateral agreements with China, the Kyrgyz authorities do not grant refugee status to Chinese Uyghurs. For this reason, UNHCR individually reviews Uyghur asylum applications and seeks resettlement outside the region for those the agency recognizes as refugees.


This 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.