The United Nations (UN) in Kyrgyzstan
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United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)

The United Nations Refugee Agency is mandated by the United Nations General Assembly to lead and co-ordinate international action for the worldwide protection of refugees and the resolution of refugee problems. UNHCR’s primary purpose is to safeguard the rights and well-being of refugees. UNHCR strives to ensure that everyone can exercise the right to seek asylum and find safe refuge in another state, and to return home voluntarily. By assisting refugees to return to their own country, integrate in asylum country or to settle in another country, UNHCR seeks lasting solutions to their plight. UNHCR’s efforts are mandated by the organisation’s Statute, and guided by the 1951 United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol.

Over fifty years ago, on 14 December 1950, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Statute of UNHCR. Three weeks later, on New Year's Day 1951, UNHCR began its work with a staff of 33 and a budget of US$300,000. The agency was given a three year mandate to re-settle two million refugees from World War II and then it was supposed to cease operations, its work complete.

Half a century later, the Geneva-based agency's 5,000 staff in 120 countries care for more than 22 million people. It has a budget of about $1 billion a year, but the demand on those resources is increasing as both the numbers of refugees and the complexity of refugee issues grows daily.

In the early 1990s, civil war in Tajikistan and continued conflict in Afghanistan forced thousands of people to flee their homes in search of refuge. Many fled to the Kyrgyz Republic, which, with its lack of experience in dealing with questions relating to forced population movements, sought external assistance and expertise. Since establishing a presence in Kyrgyzstan in 1995, UNHCR has worked closely with the Kyrgyz Republic to develop a national capacity to manage refugee protection and assistance and to reduce the potential for future conflict leading to involuntary population movements. Since 1996, UNHCR has spent almost four million USD on various assistance programmes seeking lasting solutions for refugees in Kyrgyzstan.


In Kyrgyzstan, UNHCR seeks lasting solutions for the plight of refugees by pursuing the following objectives:

  • 1. Local integration for those Tajik refugees wishing to remain in Kyrgyzstan
  • 2. Voluntary repatriation of Tajik refugees wishing to return to Tajikistan
  • 3. Strengthened protection framework for refugees and asylum seekers
  • 4. Protection and welfare of refugees of all nationalities
  • 5. Reduced potential for conflict and reinforced contingency-planning measures

1. Local Integration: For the approximately 90% of Tajik refugees in Kyrgyzstan who wish to remain in Kyrgyzstan (primarily ethnic-Kyrgyz), UNHCR is working in two areas to ensure their integration into Kyrgyzstan. Firstly, UNHCR is promoting the acquisition of Kyrgyz citizenship for refugees - the single most important factor for successful integration. Secondly, UNHCR is implementing various programmes focused on promoting refugee self-sufficiency and the development of the communities in which refugees live.

  • Citizenship Acquisition: UNHCR, in co-operation with Counterpart Consortium, has established a three person citizenship team dedicated to co-ordinating the preparation and submission of citizenship applications. In addition, selected refugee NGOs are being provided with small grants to cover some of the costs associated with assisting refugees in collecting the required documents.
  • Education: UNHCR, in co-operation with Adventist Development and Relief Agency International (ADRA), provides refugee children who are not attending school the opportunity to participate in a one-year accelerated education programme. The objective of the initiative is to enable the children to integrate the following year into regular school. In 2003, over 250 children in 14 schools are participating in the programme. Up to 10% of each class is composed of the most vulnerable children from local families.
  • Micro-enterprise: Refugee families, working in co-operation with local families, are provided access to small credits to initiate micro-enterprises under this UNHCR/ Sairon project. Approximately 200 families are expected to benefit from this programme in 2003.
  • Citizenship Grants: Refugees upon obtaining the Kyrgyz citizenship may apply for a citizenship grant provided through Mercy Corps. the grant can be provided for a developing a micro-business or other income generation activity. About 300 families are expected to benefit from this activity.
  • Civil Society Support Centres: Four centres (Kara-Balta, Kant, Nookat, Batken) are mandated to facilitate refugee integration including supporting non-governmental organisations (NGOs) working with refugees, providing training in business skills and assisting refugees in the development of project proposals. In 2003, UNHCR, Norwegian Refugee Council and Counterpart Consortium jointly continues to implement a small grant programme to support initiatives implemented by refugee NGOs.

2. Voluntary Repatriation: Since a peace agreement in Tajikistan was reached in June 1997, UNHCR has facilitated the voluntary repatriation of nearly 5,000 mainly ethnic-Tajik refugees to Tajikistan. While most refugees who wish to return have already done so, it is expected that up to 200 refugees will elect to return to Tajikistan in 2003. In addition, as the situation in Afghanistan evolves, it is possible that some Afghan refugees may choose to return home.

  • UNHCR co-ordinates the repatriation of Tajik refugees with the assistance of the Kyrgyz government's Department of Migration Services (DMS). DMS arranges the transport of the refugees and their personal effects to Tajikistan (Dushanbe or Jergital).

3. Strengthened Protection Framework: Kyrgyzstan has taken a leading role in the Central Asian region in dealing with refugee issues – for example, it ratified the 1951 Geneva Convention and 1967 Protocol, key international agreements related to refugees in 1995. It has also established a special body responsible for dealing with refugee issues - the Department of Migration Services (DMS) under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. UNHCR is implementing a number of activities to support the further strengthening of the protection framework in Kyrgyzstan. In 2002 the Kyrgyz Republic has adopted a new Refugee Law in accordance with international standards.

  • UNHCR is promoting the adoption and implementation of the relevant by-laws required for complete implementation of the new Refugee law adopted in 2002.
  • Technical and financial support is being provided to DMS and other government agencies to strengthen the refugee status determination procedure.

4. Protection and Welfare: UNHCR works to ensure basic protection for refugees and asylum-seekers of all nationalities, including Tajiks, Afghans and Chechens. UNHCR continues to advocate for the implementation of the refugee status determination procedure without discrimination to the country of origin of the applicants. In addition, UNHCR has a number of programmes in place to facilitate the protection and welfare of refugees.

  • Medical Assistance: UNHCR, in co-operation with Mandatory Health Insurance Fund at the Ministry of health has provided all Tajik refugee and new citizens in Chui province with the health insurance policies enabling them to receive free of charge medical services at the ministry of health’s facilities, such as Family Medicine Centres. Kyrgyz Red Crescent Society (KRCS), provides basic medical assistance to refugees in Osh, Batken and Jalalabad provinces through clinics in Bishkek and Osh. In addition, mobile clinics visit more distant refugee communities on a regular basis.
  • Afghans: In 2003, UNHCR is providing Afghan refugees with short-term vocational training opportunities to facilitate the development of skills that could be used in Kyrgyzstan or eventually in Afghanistan. UNHCR also supports the operation of a primary school for Afghan refugee children to study in their native language of Dari and a number of basic literacy courses for Afghan refugee women.
  • Chechens: Newly arrived Chechen asylum-seekers are provided a small one-time assistance package while families of vulnerable Chechen asylum seekers are assisted in sending their children to school. In 2003, vocational training courses will be offered to Chechen asylum-seekers.
  • Legal Assistance: In Northern Kyrgyzstan, UNHCR is working with Adilet Legal Clinic where refugees and asylum-seekers can obtain assistance on legal issues, such as asylum application and appeals, citizenship acquisition, detention and representation in court and law enforcement bodies. Similar services are provided in Southern Kyrgyzstan through UNHCR's partner, the Fund for Economic and Legal Reform (FLER).
  • Resettlement: Refugees in need of resettlement with no prospects of local integration in Kyrgyzstan are being interviewed and cases submitted for resettlement for USA, Canada and European countries.

5. Conflict Prevention and Emergency Preparedness: Given the potential for conflict in Southern Kyrgyzstan and the neighbouring regions in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, including possible population displacements, UNHCR is promoting activities to reduce the potential for conflict in the region and to be better prepared for the possibility of an emergency situation.

  • UNHCR is providing training to NGOs and government officials on emergency preparedness related to population displacement.
  • In addition to having in place its own contingency plan, UNHCR participates in various contingency planning and emergency co-ordination bodies including representatives of government, NGOs and international organisations.

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