Ending Statelessness Is Easy, Says Kyrgyz Winner Of Top U.N. Prize

By Umberto Bacchi

A lawyer who helped Kyrgyzstan become the first country to eradicate statelessness has urged politicians to end the plight of millions of “legal ghosts” who lack any nationality after winning a prestigious U.N. award on Wednesday.

 

Azizbek Ashurov is welcomed with traditional bread and horse's milk, as he leads the Ferghana Valley Lawyers Without Borders mobile team on a visit to a community of formerly stateless persons in a remote area of Kyrgyzstan. ; Ferghana Valley Lawyers Without Borders, headed by Ashurov, was first established in 2003 to offer free legal advice. It began tackling statelessness in 2007 and, in 2014, funding from UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, helped to set up mobile legal clinics and map the problem. Working with the Kyrgyz government, they have helped well over 10,000 people to gain Kyrgyz nationality after they became stateless following the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Among them, some 2,000 children will now have the right to an education and a future with the freedom to travel, marry and work. For his efforts helping the country become the first country in the world to end statelessness, Director Azizbek Ashurov has won the 2019 UNHCR  Nansen Refugee Award.  Statelessness limits access to basic rights such as employment, education and healthcare. UNHCR is striving to meet the goal of its #IBelong Campaign to End Statelessness by 2024.
Azizbek Ashurov is welcomed with traditional bread and horse’s milk, as he leads the Ferghana Valley Lawyers Without Borders mobile team on a visit to a community of formerly stateless persons in a remote area of Kyrgyzstan. ; Ferghana Valley Lawyers Without Borders, headed by Ashurov, was first established in 2003 to offer free legal advice. It began tackling statelessness in 2007 and, in 2014, funding from UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, helped to set up mobile legal clinics and map the problem.
Working with the Kyrgyz government, they have helped well over 10,000 people to gain Kyrgyz nationality after they became stateless following the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Among them, some 2,000 children will now have the right to an education and a future with the freedom to travel, marry and work.
For his efforts helping the country become the first country in the world to end statelessness, Director Azizbek Ashurov has won the 2019 UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award.
Statelessness limits access to basic rights such as employment, education and healthcare. UNHCR is striving to meet the goal of its #IBelong Campaign to End Statelessness by 2024.

Kyrgyz human rights lawyer Azizbek Ashurov said combating statelessness was “simple”, but required political will, arguing that governments should recognise it was in their national interest to do so.

“If governments will make a political decision to end this, they can,” Ashurov, 37, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview.

“It’s in the government’s interest to keep people under the radar and give them more rights and freedoms to realise themselves legally.”

The U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) named Ashurov winner of the annual Nansen Refugee Award on Wednesday for helping more than 10,000 people win Kyrgyz citizenship.

Staff at his Ferghana Valley Lawyers Without Borders (FVLWB) travelled to remote areas of the Central Asian country in battered vehicles or on horseback to give free legal advice to people at risk of being made stateless, the UNHCR said.

In June, Kyrgyzstan handed citizenship to the last stateless people on its territory – something that Ashurov said showed a U.N. goal to find everyone a country to call their own by 2024 was achievable.

Progress towards the goal will be discussed at a major intergovernmental meeting in Geneva on Monday.

An estimated 10 to 15 million people are not recognised as nationals by any country, often depriving them of basic rights most of the world takes for granted such as education, healthcare, housing and jobs.

People become stateless for a host of complex historical, social and legal reasons – including migration, flawed citizenship laws and ethnic discrimination.

Hundreds of thousands fell through the cracks after the break-up of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, many becoming stranded across newly established borders with invalid Soviet passports or no way to prove where they were born.

Ashurov’s work was motivated by his own family’s difficult experience of achieving Kyrguz citizenship after arriving from Uzbekistan.

“I realised that if it was this difficult for me, with my education, and as a lawyer, then imagine how hard it must be for an ordinary person,” he said.

After helping to eradicate statelessness at home, Ashurov said he was now focusing on helping other Central Asian countries, including training more lawyers on migration issues.

Stateless people cannot open businesses, pay taxes or contribute to society and are forced to work illegally, making them vulnerable to exploitation from criminal groups, he said.

In June, the U.N. said Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, and Kazakhstan was on course to end statelessness.

But there has been little progress towards solutions for some of the world’s largest stateless populations, which include 692,000 people in Ivory Coast and more than 1 million Rohingya in Myanmar and Bangladesh.

The Nansen prize is named after Norwegian polar explorer Fridtjof Nansen, the first high commissioner for refugees.

Nansen also has a Kyrgyz mountain named after him – a coincidence Ashurov described as symbolic.

Source: news.trust.org

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