Several former territories never fully recovered after the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991, but it was Kazakhstan’s strong agricultural roots, which were developed during the occupation and major investments in the country’s oil fields, that supported it through the difficult transition and set them apart from the other Central Asian countries in the decades that followed. Today, Kazakhstan is known as Asia’s bread basket for its role in providing food thanks to the country’s continued farming success, as well as natural gas and oil reserves which are believed to be the main pulls of migrant workers to Kazakhstan. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the UN’s refugee agency, has supplied the following breakdown of the number of migrants within the country in June of 2015: 662 refugees, 149 asylum seekers, and 7,038 stateless persons- 80% from Afghanistan alone. These numbers do not account for the millions of former migrants since 1991 who have since their arrival gained citizenship, and for this reason Kazakhstan recognizes the importance of the protection of these people, not only as a work force, but as potential citizens.
Kazakhstan has joined UNHCR with Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan and since their induction, have worked together to develop and implement solutions regarding migrant rights in the Central Asian region. In 2010, Kazakhstan’s Refugee Law was created to grant migrants a temporary residence status of one year. Certain setbacks are associated with this temporary status however and even legislation that contradicts it like the labor law that establishes the minimum period that a job contract can be made is one year, making it nearly impossible for migrants to find legal work unless they have one as soon as they obtain their temporary status. Additionally, in 2014, Kazakhstan introduced “identification and travel documents for refugees and stateless people which are compliant with the standards of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and will be issued free of charge for refugees,” (UNDP, 2015). Even with the laws currently in place, basic rights to education, for example, can be threatened by the irregular status.
In 2015, Kazakhstan hosted a presentation to celebrate the UN’s 70th anniversary called “Addressing Mixed Migration Flows in Central Asia” where Eduardo Yrezabal, Deputy Representative for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and Tatiana Hadjiemmanuel, Deputy Coordinator for Central Asia and Senior Programme Manager for the Coordination Office for Central Asia of the International Organization for Migration (IOM),
spoke on the importance of legal change in regard to migrants’ rights. One change proposed in regards to the Refugee Law conflict is a residence permit for refugees that lasts longer than 12 months, although security concerns currently prevent the majority from agreeing. At the same time, the UNHCR continues its push towards “residence permits for mandate refugees who are not eligible for naturalization, and pursues resettlement” for a “small number of Afghan refugees” (UNDP, 2015) which is met with the same worries, leaving the participating countries at a stand-still. Also proposed by Mr. Yrezabal were border management systems that have the “necessary mechanisms for the border authorities to be able to differentiate who could be in need of protection… [and] special treatment owing to particular protection needs,” which he believes would “allow countries not only to differentiate and therefore to determine who should be treated in accordance with special procedures, but also it helps to prevent security threats” (UNDP, 2015). Peace talks since then involving Kazakhstan have focused more on the social instead of political issue of migration in an attempt to sway policymakers’ and practitioners’ attitudes towards migrants’ rights, encouraging them to consider Central Asia’s migration dynamics differently than usual- through a security lens- because this prevents an sovereign state from sharing data with external international counterparts to protect that country’s own security.
BBC News. (2015, September 8). Kazakhstan country profile. Retrieved from www.bbc.com: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-pacific-15263826
UNDP. (2015, March 16). UN70: “Addressing Mixed Migration Flows in Central Asia”. Retrieved from www.kz.undp.org: http://www.kz.undp.org/content/kazakhstan/en/home/presscenter/articles/2015/03/16/un70-addressing-mixed-migration-flows-in-central-asia-.html
UNDP. (n.d.). Eradicate Extreme Hunger and Poverty. Retrieved from www.kz.undp.org: http://www.kz.undp.org/content/kazakhstan/en/home/post-2015/mdgoverview/overview/mdg1.html
UNHCR. (2015). 2015 UNHCR subregional operations profile - Central Asia. Retrieved from www.unhcr.org: http://www.unhcr.org/pages/49e487146.html
Worldwide Movement for Human Rights. (2010, April 14). Kazakhstan: economic, social and cultural rights of migrant workers, asylum seekers and refugees. Retrieved from www.fidh.org: https://www.fidh.org/en/region/europe-central-asia/kazakhstan/Kazakhstan-economic-social-and