UNHCR REpresentative In year 2000, the UN General Assembly in its resolution decided that from 2001, June 20 would be celebrated as World Refugee Day. It was the year marking the 50th anniversary of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. Since then, on this day tribute is paid to the courage and resilience of families forced to leave their homes fleeing from war and persecution.
For the last years, the world is facing an unprecedented level of displacement since founding the United Nations. Currently, more than 60 million people are uprooted in the world to save their lives from wars and conflicts. In the times of global crises, when notions of migrants and refugees are in the public discourse, it is vital to underline that refugees, in comparison to migrants are those who are forced to flee, while the latter are moving voluntary in a search for better economic opportunities.
Q: How many refugees are in the Central Asian countries?
A: Central Asia is a safe haven for more than 3,000 refugees. There are more than 600 refugees in Kazakhstan, around 400 refugees in Kyrgyzstan, and almost 2,000 refugees in Tajikistan. The majority of them came to the region many years ago, and still live here many years later. UNHCR, partners and governments in Central Asian countries continue with efforts to find appropriate solutions for their plight, including voluntary repatriation or integration where they live.
Q: When a person is considered a refugee? What are types of refugees and what is the difference between those types? What kinds of refugees are mostly spread in Central Asia?
A: The refugee definition is defined in the 1951 Refugee Convention and generally sepaking, refugees are considered people outside their country of origin because of feared persecution, conflict, violence, or other circumstances and, as a result, require ‘international protection’. Their situation is often so intolerable, that they cross national borders to seek safety in nearby countries, and thus become internationally recognized as ‘refugees’ with access to assistance from states, UNHCR, and other relevant organizations. Refugees are given status and international protection because it is too dangerous for them to return home, and they therefore need asylum and support elsewhere. These are people for whom denial of asylum has potentially deadly consequences. Refugees are not differentiated by types or kinds.
Q: What are main instruments of refugee protection globally and in the region?
A: Most of the rights crucial to refugee protection are also the fundamental rights stated in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, including the right to seek and enjoy asylum. However, the cornerstone of the modern refugee protection regime is the 1951 Convention related to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol [the ‘1951 Convention’], which incorporates the fundamental concepts of refugee protection. Its provisions remain the primary international standard against which any measures for the protection and treatment of refugees are judged. The main principle of international protection is the principle of non-refoulement (no forced returns). According to this principle, refugees must not be expelled or returned to situations where their life or freedom would be under threat. States, which acceded to the 1951 Convention, bear the primary responsibility for this protection. UNHCR works closely with governments, recommending and supporting them as needed, to implement their responsibilities, including in the countries of Central Asia. All Central Asian countries except Uzbekistan acceded to the 1951 Convention, and adopted national refugee laws. This means, that countries took responsibility to provide international protection to refugees, residing on their territories. In Central Asia there are more than 3,000 refugees recognized by the governments. We cannot divide refugees into types, but would like to underline that all of them are under protection of the states, parties to the 1951 Convention.
Q: What problems are encountered by refugees in Central Asia? Why is it so? Is it explained by local world outlook?
A: In general, national legislation in Central Asian states accords refugees the same socio-economic rights with nationals of the countries. However some challenges, mainly employment, continue to exist in the region. Actual terms and lengths of employment and business licence depend on the length of time in which a person is certified to reside legally in the country. Most refugees in Central Asia are issued with a refugee identity document valid for one year, subject to renewal on a yearly basis.
This has been an obstacle to secure employment for a reasonable length of time to ensure sustainability. Many refugees are highly qualified professionals, including doctors, teachers, scientists, and if given a chance are eager to contribute to the development of host society.
Regarding education, refugee children in the region do not have problems with primary and secondary education, but face obstacles with higher education, which is accessible only on a paid basis and cannot be afforded by most of the refugees, hence making them uncertain about their future in the country of asylum.
Q: How would you regard efforts of Kyrgyzstan and other Central Asian states in protection of refugees?
A: I think that countries of Central Asia have achieved considerable results in protection of refugees, but there are, as always, opportunities for further improvements. First, all countries, except Uzbekistan, acceded to the 1951 Convention on Status of Refugees. Later on, laws on refugees were developed on national level and incorporated all main provisions of the Convention. By acceding to the Convention and adopting national laws, countries of Central Asia undertook full responsibility to protect refugees, residing on their territories. Moreover, countries undertook responsibility to conduct refugee status determination process. Therefore, currently UNHCR is working with the governments and relevant interministerial working groups in the region on strengthening the asylum system to ensure its compliance with internationals standards and improving national legislation on refugees in the countries of Central Asia.
In conclusion, I would like to add that this year, in the times of global displacement we talk about refugees being the same people, as you and me, who unfortunately, have to flee to save their lives. These people should not be viewed as a burden, but rather as people with different background, skills and culture who can enrich the host society and be equal contributors to the development of economic, social and cultural life of host countries. The global community these days is sharing collective responsibility and action to end the conflicts which force people to flee and also to help the millions of people whose lives have been destroyed by this violence.
UNHCR launched a global campaign, and asks everyone to show solidarity by joining the campaign #WithRefugees and by signing the online petition at: www.unhcr.org/refugeeday/petition/