Dozens of refugees in Turkmenistan, mainly Afghans and Azeris, are set to be resettled in Canada in the near future, according to the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Ashgabat. The Canadian government has accepted 140 refugees for resettlement, including 25 families from Azerbaijan, 22 families from Afghanistan, 17 families from Iran and one stateless person. They are expected to leave for Canada in the near future.
Along with some 14,000 Tajik and Afghan refugees living in rural areas, Turkmenistan hosts around 500 urban refugees from Afghanistan, Iran, Azerbaijan, the Russian Federation and Iraq. With no strong local links and no possibility of voluntary repatriation to their countries of origin, resettlement to a third country was seen as the best solution for these people, the UNHCR Ashgabat office said in a statement.
"Promoting and facilitating durable solutions is a central mandate responsibility for UNHCR. The office has been facilitating resettlement of refugees whose prospects for long-term local integration or voluntary return to their country of origin are negligible, and persons identified as having special needs that could only be met through resettlement," Ruvendrini Menikdiwela, head of UNHCR in Turkmenistan, told IRIN from the Turkmen capital on Thursday.
Taking advantage of the international community's commitment to sharing the burden of asylum countries hosting large refugee populations, UNHCR proposed the resettlement of these refugees in Canada and the US. A total of 373 persons have been identified and submitted to these countries for consideration.
"Voluntary repatriation is not a solution for these refugees because they are either still at risk of persecution in their countries of origin due to their ethnicities, past activities or political beliefs, or other reasons, or the situation in their countries of origin still remains unstable and volatile and is thus not conducive to their return at this stage," the UNHCR head of mission explained.
Moreover, unlike Tajik and Afghan refugees of ethnic Turkmen origin who share the same culture as the local community and who are generally well integrated in Turkmenistan, individually recognised mandate refugees often lack social, cultural or family links with the host country. "They reside in urban centres and find it much more difficult to integrate," Menikdiwela noted.
Some 250 refugees have been resettled in third countries since UNHCR started operating in the former Soviet republic.
Commenting on the significance of the move, the UNHCR official said that resettlement was an instrument of international solidarity and burden sharing. "Turkmenistan generously provides its hospitality to 13,000 Tajik prima facie refugees in rural settlements. Resettling this group of individually recognised refugees will relieve some of the pressure on the country," she noted.
A team from the US embassy in Moscow is scheduled to arrive in Ashgabat in November to interview 223 refugees. If they are accepted by the US, UNHCR will have found a permanent and durable solution for the majority of the urban refugees in Turkmenistan, thereby reducing the refugee burden on this country, the UNHCR office said.
According to the most recent report on refugee population in the world Global Refugee Trend 2003, more than 400 refugees, particularly Afghans, were resettled to third countries from the three Central Asian republics of Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan in 2003.