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Helping families apply for citizenship in Kyrgyzstan

Over 17,000 people are stateless in Kyrgyzstan, though many have lived in the country for decades.

As part of its recent campaign to raise awareness about the problems of the world’s stateless, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) looked at the situation in Kyrgyzstan.

Following the break-up of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, hundreds of thousands of people were left without official nationality as boundaries were redrawn and new states formed. Many families in Kyrgyzstan still hold their old Soviet passports. But if they failed to apply for new citizenship papers when Kyrgyzstan became independent in 1991, they are not officially recognised as nationals now. Without citizenship papers, people have limited access to services such as healthcare and are not eligible to receive social allowances like state pensions. They are also unable to register marriages and births. Therefore the problem is self-perpetuating, because any children are stateless.

UNHCR spoke to one father, Shovkat, whose two daughters have no birth certificates. Because the girls are not officially registered, the family receives no allowances for them. The girls will also miss out on a proper education and face an uncertain future with it. Shovkat works illegally in a market. Having lost part of his arm while employed as a mechanic at a private garage, he is not entitled to any disability allowance. The 34-year old father would like to sort out the correct paperwork so that he and his daughters will have a better future, but he simply doesn’t have the resources. He tells UNHCR “to get a new Kyrgyz passport, I need to go to the town several times, pay for transport and miss several days of work. I don’t have so much money.”

The agency is providing assistance to people like Shovkat, by giving advice and legal help to those who are stateless. In conjunction with the government, UNHCR also runs mobile clinics to reach people in rural communities. The vehicles are fully equipped and help families submit the necessary papers and exchange old Soviet passports for Kyrgyz ones.

Though dealing with many problems, such as the aftermath of the violence between ethnic Uzbeks and Kyrgyz in the south, the government says it is committed to reducing the number of stateless people in the country. Around 10,000 refugees who arrived during the civil war in Tajikistan were granted Kyrgyz citizenship. And a National Plan for the Reduction and Prevention of Statelessness has been adopted. Operating with UNHCR assistance, the plan incorporates a national survey to assess the scale of the problem and proposes changes to ensure all children born in the Kyrgyz Republic are provided with birth certificates. This should hopefully mean that in the future, everyone in Kyrgyzstan can receive the kind of help most citizens take for granted.

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