Kazakhstan hosted some 20,600 refugees and asylum seekers at the end of 2002. The majority (13,700) were Chechens from the Russian Federation. Other large groups included Tajiks (3,500), Afghans (2,200), and Palestinians (1,100), and 30 asylum seekers of other nationalities, including Chinese Uighurs.

In 2002, the Kazakh authorities granted refugee status to 21 persons, all Afghan asylum seekers; 8 were denied. A single Palestinian refugee was granted a residence permit. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) assisted about 630 Tajiks to voluntarily repatriate to their home country, and 15 Afghans to repatriate to Afghanistan. The agency also provided 11,900 Chechens, 800 Afghans, 65 Tajiks, and a small number of refugees of other nationalities with humanitarian assistance, including legal counseling and vocational training.

Asylum Procedures

Although Kazakhstan acceded to the UN Refugee Convention and Protocol in 1999, the institution of asylum remains embryonic. Only about 960 persons have been recognized as refugees, the vast majority Afghans, since Kazakhstan established a refugee status determination procedure in 1998. Asylum is constrained by perceived national security considerations associated with the country's two powerful and refugee-producing neighbors, the Russian Federation and China. Kazakhstani asylum policy excludes citizens of the Confederation of Independent States from the asylum procedure, effectively denying official refugee recognition to Chechens and Tajiks.

The Chechen Challenge

During the year, 1,800 Chechens arrived in Kazakhstan and were granted temporary, provisional protection status by UNHCR, an intervention reflecting the agency's judgment that "the protection situation ... remains serious [and] requires a comprehensive and immediate action." In fact, the human rights and humanitarian situation of Chechens in Russia deteriorated markedly throughout 2002 (see Russia). A number of cases of deportations of Chechens were brought to the attention of UNHCR during the year, but the agency was unable to establish how many persons might have been deported or refouled without ever having a chance to make their claims.

Other Operational Shortcomings

The authorities do not allow Uighur asylum seekers fleeing repression in China to apply. UNHCR seeks resettlement elsewhere for Chinese Uighurs whose protection cannot be ensured in Kazakhstan. UNHCR also intervened in a high profile case of a Turkmen political dissident who was eventually resettled to Sweden.

Also, Kazakhstan's own refugee status determination procedure, run by the Agency for Migration and Demography, only takes place in Almaty, the former capital, posing a serious obstacle to applicants in the vast country.

Kazakhstan established the Republican Refugee Status Determination Commission in 2002 to address shortcomings in the asylum process. According to UNHCR, the new commission "requires significant capacity-building." A decision on the one case it considered during the course of the year was still pending at year's end.

Ethnic Kazakh Returnees

Kazakhstan encourages the return of ethnic Kazakhs from other countries. UNHCR reported that since independence, some 215,000 ethnic Kazakhs have returned to Kazakhstan. Of this total, some 35,000 ethnic Kazakhs returned in 2002. Such persons are not considered refugees by the government but are classified as oralman (ethnic Kazakh returnee). Over half have received citizenship, with approximately 80,000 remaining stateless. UNHCR does not have the resources to assist the stateless oralman acquire citizenship, although it recognizes them as a population of concern. Since 1998, the flow of ethnic Kazakhs and the ethnically and linguistically close Karakalpaks from Uzbekistan's Karakalpakstan province into Kazakhstan has increased due to extreme drought conditions, according to a report by the Institute for War and Peace Reporting.


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