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Tajik refugees await naturalisation

[Turkmenistan] Tajik refugee children in Babadurmaz. IRIN
Tajik refugee children in Babadurmaz - their parents want to be naturalised inTurkmenistan
An hour's drive eastwards from the Turkmen capital, Ashgabat, you reach a settlement called Babadurmaz in the southern province of Akhal, where a community of 300 Tajik refugee families lives. They have been settled in the region for many years and are well integrated into Turkmen society but, despite being ethnic Turkmen, are still awaiting naturalisation. "I came here in 1992 because of the (civil) war. We are Turkmen and this is the land of our forefathers," one ethnic Turkmen Tajik refugee, told IRIN in Babadurmaz. Asked whether he would go back to Tajikistan, he said: "No, I am settled here with my family." According to the US-based humanitarian organisation Refugees International (RI), there are about 14,000 Tajik refugees living in Turkemistan. Another refugee who arrived ten years ago from the southern Tajik province of Khatlon told IRIN that they were now very much at home there. "This is our home and we don't intend to go back," she said, putting another piece of Turkmen bread known as 'chorek' into a traditional 'tandyr' oven. Tajik refugees in Babadurmaz seem to be well integrated into the local community. Back in Tajikistan they were mostly industrious farmers and the majority of them now have plots of land to cultivate in Turkmenistan provided by the government. "They are good farmers and hard working people," a local official told IRIN. Another sign of their integration and long term plans to stay in the country is the construction of new houses. "Children grow and young people marry. We need to build houses for them," an elderly refugee told IRIN. The majority of Tajiks in the country came between 1992 and 1997, fleeing the civil war in Tajikistan. "The vast majority of the refugees in Turkmenistan are of Turkmen ethnicity and have a deep and abiding attachment to this country. They wish to remain in this country permanently," Ruven Menikdiwela, Chief of the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Turkmenistan, told IRIN in Ashgabat. But one of the main challenges facing the group is the issue of Turkmen citizenship. "We would like to become Turkmen nationals, but we haven't heard any major news on this issue," one refugee conceded. Many of them have been residing in the country for more than seven years and thus, according to Turkmen legislation, qualify for citizenship. But perhaps the most durable solution for this caseload of refugees is naturalisation. "To complete this serious and sustained effort made by the Turkmen government to fully integrate refugees into the country, a final step needs to be taken - that is, the granting citizenship to those refugees who are eligible for this solution," Menikdiwela stressed.
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