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Kazak Returnees Claim Discrimination

Help for ethnic Kazaks returning home is distributed unevenly, say activists.
By Laura Amirova

Unskilled ethnic Kazaks from abroad who wish to return to their ancestral homeland are being discriminated against by the authorities in favour of better-qualified professionals.

Encouraging ethnic Kazaks to return from the diaspora has been official policy since Kazakstan became independent. President Nursultan Nazarbaev issues a decree each year detailing the target number of families which should be encouraged to immigrate from as far afield as Mongolia and Turkey.

Returnees who are accepted into Kazakstan as part of the official quota are provided with flats, granted citizenship within six months and have their travel expenses reimbursed. The head of the household is given a one-off payment of around 90 US dollars, and other family members are given around 60 dollars each.

While there is nothing to stop other Kazaks who are not granted returnee status from coming to living in the country, they are given residence permits rather than full citizenship, and are not entitled to any benefits. They struggle to find work and housing.

However, a recent legal claim by one man seeking to relocate in Kazakstan has highlighted discrepancies in the returnee process that suggest that the authorities are only interested in accepting skilled immigrants such as doctors and scientists.

Abdybek Dosov, an unskilled labourer from Uzbekistan - and an ethnic Kazak - brought his wife and two young children to the capital Astana in June 2001, a month after he had applied to the Kazak consulate in Uzbekistan for returnee status.

Following repeated requests to be included in the quota of immigrants - all of which were turned down without explanation - Dosov contacted a human rights organization, the Kazak International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law, KIBHRRL, which agreed to take his case on.

In an attempt to find out why their applications had been turned down, the family filed a lawsuit with the Sary-Arka district court in Astana.

During the court proceedings - which are still ongoing - it was revealed that the government's migration and demography agency does not always act according to the immigration legislation, or even the presidential decrees on quotas.

Instead, it follows guidelines laid down in an internal memo issued by the presidential administration, which states that "special attention must be paid to the qualitative composition of the immigration flow", and suggests that people with professional skills needed in Kazakstan should be favoured.

But as this memo was written in relation to 2002, and does not form part of the legislation, it is not clear why the agency is still using it one year later - especially since President Nazarbaev has repeatedly stated that all ethnic Kazaks are welcome to return.

Anara Ibraeva, director of KIBHRRL in Astana, is representing the Dosov family in court. "This memo refers to the draft presidential decree for 2002 - so its use is incorrect," she told IWPR. "In addition, all citizens are equal under the consitution and any discrimination is forbidden. This memo therefore represents a violation of human rights and of current legislation."

Parliamentary deputy Sania Kaldygulova told IWPR that the Dosov case was not uncommon, "We had a similar problem recently where an ethnic Kazak arrived from Uzbekistan, contacted me, and we tried to help them.

"I think that in cases where people once lived in the Soviet Union want to return to their ancestral homes, there should be no restrictions at all."

However, parliamentary deputy Valentin Makalkin thinks that such restrictions are necessary, adding, "We have a situation where our top brains are leaving and we would like to reverse this trend. Kazakstan has enough unskilled workers."

The president has set 2003's immigration quota at 5,000 families, of whom more than 4,000 are expected to come from neighbouring Uzbekistan, nearly 500 from Russia, followed by smaller numbers from Turkmenistan, China, Afghanistan, Mongolia, Turkey, Iran and other countries. Many of the Kazaks now living outside the former Soviet Union fled in the early years of communism.

The authorities are now coming under pressure to release more money to the budget for returnees in an attempt to increase the number of immigrants accepted into Kazakstan - whether they are skilled professionals or not.

Deputy Serikbay Bisetaev said, "Many Kazaks - especially those living in Russia - want to come home. We should increase the budget in 2004 and subsequent years, so everyone who wants to return can do so without restriction."

Laura Amirova is the pseudonym of a journalist in Astana.

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