UNHCR established its presence in Ashgabat in 1995
Until end June 2016
UNHCR established its presence in Ashgabat in 1995, and since then, in line with its global mandate, has been providing protection of refugees and asylum-seekers and seeking durable solutions for refugee problems. Turkmenistan adopted its first refugee law in 1997 prior to its accession to the 1951 Refugee Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol on 2 March 1998. On 4 March 1998, the Government of Turkmenistan and UNHCR signed the Cooperation Agreement. The Agreement entitles UNHCR to pursue its primary purpose of safeguarding the rights and well-being of refugees and asylum-seekers and assisting refugees in finding durable solutions. Currently refugee status determination (RSD) is carried out by UNHCR, according to UNHCR's Statute and the 1951 UN Convention Relating to status of refugees and its 1967 New York Protocol. Turkmenistan respects UNHCR's protection mandate and honours RSD decisions made by the Representation.
Main UNHCR objectives in Turkmenistan are:
- Assist the Government in saving asylum space and regime, in line with the 1951 Convention and 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugee
- Finding durable solutions for refugees, in particular, to create conditions for local integration and facilitate self-reliance of refugees
- Facilitation of the development of national refugee legislation in accordance with international law
- Preparation to the mapping of the country within the statelessness project
- Lobbying for the accession of Turkmenistan to the international statelessness instruments and provide support to stateless persons in finding permanent solutions
- One of the principal goals of international protection is finding durable solutions for refugees. The Agenda for Protection, launched in 2002 at the Global Consultations on International Protection, makes the search for comprehensive durable solutions an important element of UNHCR activities. By assisting refugees to settle permanently in an asylum country, UNHCR seeks lasting solutions to their plight. As a result of the registration exercise, in August 2005 the late President Saparmurat Niyazov had signed the Presidential Decree on granting Turkmenistan citizenship to 13, 245 persons and residence permits to 3,053 persons. The majority of these people were prima facie refugees from Tajikistan. Following this decree, UNHCR in coordination with its partners monitored the issuance of the documents and financial assistance was extended to over 120 former vulnerable refugees in order to cover administration fees relating to the issuance of citizenship and residence permits.
- Following its mandate, UNHCR continues to facilitate development of national refugee legislation in accordance with international law.
- Education is one of the main elements of UNHCR assistance programs, and it comprises of language classes for refugee children, vocational trainings for young refugee adults and women, construction and upgrading of schools in rural areas and provision of school supplies, organization of summer camps for children and reproductive health/hygiene/sanitation trainings for refugee women and men.
- UNHCR in Turkmenistan extensively implements a number of health projects, both in urban and in rural areas. Since 1995, UNHCR has distributed over 40 medical aid kits to refugee communities around the country. The Office has also helped maintain and repair more than 17 remote medical aid posts, and has enhanced the capacity of rural medical units with 10 ambulances. In February 2006, UNHCR signed rights of use agreements with local health authorities in three refugee-hosting provinces (Akhal, Mary and Lebap) for medical equipment and refrigerators worth 50,000 USD for use in rural settlements. Through involvement of its partners, UNHCR conducts trainings on Reproduction Health, Basics of Hygiene in order to increase awareness on these issues. Along with that medical staff of the medical aid posts located in refugee/former refugee settlements trained on proper use of medical equipment and on issues of prevention of various diseases Avian Flu, HIV-AIDS and others.
Durable solutions for refugees:
- Voluntary repatriation in safety and dignity is another durable solution pursued by UNHCR. Since the establishment of its presence in Turkmenistan, UNHCR has assisted over 6,000 Tajik and Afghan refugees to return home. In 1998-99, in collaboration with the International Organization on Migration (IOM) and the National Red Crescent Society (NRCS), UNHCR conducted a series of organized voluntary repatriations of Tajik refugees. In later years, UNHCR continued repatriation activities, but on an individual basis. UNHCR also assisted a number of ethnic Armenian refugees from Azerbaijan to return to Armenia. Resettlement to third countries is used by UNHCR as a durable solution, burden-sharing and protection tool. Approximately 900 refugees have been resettled to resettlement countries, such as USA, Canada, Sweden.
- At present, 82 Mandate refugees reside in Turkmenistan. In addition to Mandate refugees, however, UNHCR assists some 11,000 former prima facie Tajik refugees, affected by Naturalization Decree, with fully completing citizenship process. Most of these former refugees live in rural areas of Lebap, Mary and Akhal provinces. Therefore, medical and financial assistances are being extended to most vulnerable families and aged individuals.
- In conjunction with relevant government partners, UNHCR in Turkmenistan continues to promote a two-pronged approach to the protection of refugee women: gender mainstreaming empowering women to participate in community decision-making. The Representation takes an active role in the Inter-Agency Working Group on Gender and Human Rights and with assistance of its Implementing Partners increases awareness of beneficiaries and government officials on Gender issues, through conducting Sex-Gender-Based-Violence trainings.
Government capacity building:
- Capacity building of national asylum authorities, emergency preparedness and focusing on statelessness reduction have been UNHCR's priorities in Turkmenistan in recent years. Officials of the State Service of Turkmenistan on Registration of Foreign Citizens have been trained in special techniques of the Refugee Status Determination (RSD) procedure, which will prepare them to take charge of the RSD process in the near future. Along with specialized trainings, UNHCR has also conducted workshops on Refugee Law for law-enforcement officials dealing with refugees and asylum-seekers to improve quality, integrity and efficiency of their work. These measures are directed at strengthening the national asylum system to make it consistent with international refugee and human rights instruments. As a humanitarian agency involved in emergency situations, UNHCR jointly with the relevant Turkmenistan agencies, is developing a national emergency preparedness plan.
- UNHCR has signed an agreement with the government of Turkmenistan on an all-encompassing registration of the stateless persons in Turkmenistan, aimed at reducing and possibly resolving the issue in the country. Making steps towards improvement of the asylum regime, UNHCR facilitated participation of government officials from MFA and National Parliament in the study tour to Sweden to learn about asylum systems in developed countries. In parallel to that, UNHCR initiated discussions with TKM government on actions towards further steps towards improvement of refugee legislation.
- During 2005 under the joint UNHCR-UNFPA project, reproductive trainings, with an HIV-AIDS component, is carried out for 60 medical personnel and 800 refugees in Mary and Lebap provinces.
- UNHCR has actively participated in CCA and UNDAF processes, and their respective Country Programme Outcomes and Outputs were reflected under four UNDAF Outcomes. For UNHCR, participation in the UNDAF is important as it helps to bring forward the needs of refugees, raise awareness of the Government and UN sister agencies on refugee issues and to reflect them adequately in the integrated development assistance plan.
Key Government partners:
- Ministry of Foreign Affairs
- State Migration Service
- Ministry of Interior
- State Border guards Service
- National Institute for Democracy and Human Rights
- Local authorities.
Key NGO partners:
- NGO "Keik Okara"
- Children's Fund of Turkmenistan