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Cablegate: Tajikistan: Afghan Refugee Update

VZCZCXRO7751
RR RUEHLN RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHDBU #1317/01 2910647
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 170647Z OCT 08
FM AMEMBASSY DUSHANBE
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 1055
INFO RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE
RUEHIL/AMEMBASSY ISLAMABAD 0230
RUSBPW/AMCONSUL PESHAWAR 0016
RUEHBUL/AMEMBASSY KABUL 0268
RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA 0006
RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI 0179
RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING 0166

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 DUSHANBE 001317

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR SCA/CEN, PRM

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREF PREL PGOV PHUM UNHCR TI AF

SUBJECT: TAJIKISTAN: AFGHAN REFUGEE UPDATE

REFTEL: DUSHANBE 564

1. SUMMARY: According to government data through August, the number
of new arrivals claiming asylum in Tajikistan, mainly from
Afghanistan, had reached 957 persons, 212 more than in all of 2007.
UNHCR reports that the Tajik government is denying status to a
higher percentage of refugees often for vague reasons and that many
refugee children are working rather than attending school. The
increased numbers, coupled with the perceived deteriorating security
situation in Afghanistan, have raised concerns among both UNHCR
staff and international development organizations in Tajikistan.
END SUMMARY.


2. On October 9, Emboff met with Ilija Todorovic, UNHCR
representative to Tajikistan, and Benjamin Phillips, Central Asia
Director of Save the Children, to discuss the current refugee
situation. According to official statistics provided by the
Government of Tajikistan, there are 1,584 refugees and 231 asylum
seekers currently in country. UNHCR reports that 501 persons
approached their office since January, 327 of whom had arrived in
2008. Almost all of those who approached UNHCR are ethnic Tajik
Afghan nationals, with only eight cases (46 persons) of Hazara
ethnicity, four cases (22 persons) of Pashtun ethnicity, and two Sri
Lankans. Government data also indicates refugees from Iran, Iraq,
Cameroon and Nigeria in country. UNHCR reports that reasons given
by refugees for leaving Afganistan include: forced marriage; general
insecurity; health issues; reunification with prior refugee cases;
conflict with armed groups and/or the Taliban; land, property or
heritage issues; personal enmity; kidnapping; and, increasingly,
work with international organizations. Todorovic projected that
Tajikistan would see nearly 1,300 newcomers this year.

3. Both Todorovic and Phillips expressed concern at the growing
number of refugee children working instead of attending school.
According to Todorovic, there are a "surprising" number of Afghan
refugee children working in the local markets and bazaars, mainly as
porters for customers and vendors. An asylum seeker is not legally
authorized to work until accorded refugee status by the government.
The process, which can drag through administrative appeals processes
and court hearings if denied, means that even those refugees who
arrive in Tajikistan with some means to support themselves find that
lifeline quickly runs out.

4. Todorovic noted that the percentage of asylum seekers actually
accepted by the government has been decreasing, from 40% in 2007 to
nearly 20% now. This, according to Todorovic, is putting a strain
on the local NGOs that provide legal counseling that UNHCR works
with, as they then file appeals for the denied asylum seekers.
Reasons for denial are often vague and difficult to counter, such as
speaking out against the government of Tajikistan. Another reason
often given is the violation of the government resolutions
prohibiting the settlement of refugees in the urban areas of
Dushanbe and Khujand. Investigators head to where the asylum seeker
claims to live, and when they discover, as is almost always the
case, that the person is actually living in Dushanbe, the asylum
petition is subsequently denied.

5. Afghan refugees, however, continue to head directly for Dushanbe.
In an effort to get around the prohibition of living in the city, a
large community of Afghans has sprung up in Vakhdat, a small town
Qlarge community of Afghans has sprung up in Vakhdat, a small town
about 20 kilometers east of Dushanbe. UNHCR knows of 260 refugee
families who settled there last year. Todorovic claimed that the
"capacity" of Vakhdat to absorb more refugees is wearing thin.
UNHCR is hearing of more Afghans settling in Gissor, to the
south-west of Dushanbe. UNHCR currently does not have a local
presence in that area.

6. According to UNHCR, the government continues to defend the ban on
refugee settlement in Dushanbe and Khunjand. They claim
overcrowding, increased crime, and displacement of Tajik citizens
from markets as reasons they must keep the prohibition in place.
Less often mentioned, according to Todorovic, but likely the
overriding concern, is the fear on the part of Tajik authorities
that when (not if) the security situation in Afghanistan completely
collapses, Dushanbe will become a destination for thousands of
refugees because there will be an established community here.

7. Both Phillips and Todorovic pressed the need for preemptive
action to prevent the deteriorating situation that refugees in
Tajikistan currently face. The lack of social services, education,
health services, trauma counseling, psychological assistance and
basic shelter for many of the new arrivals will only be compounded

DUSHANBE 00001317 002 OF 002


should the numbers keep increasing. Both expressed their concern
that violence in Afghanistan is increasing, that the definition of
the Taliban is changing to include all opposition to the state, that
international organizations are being increasingly targeted (and are
indeed resettling their own staff within Afghanistan) as factors
that demonstrate that the numbers will continue to rise. Although
he had no firm numbers at the meeting, Todorovic also stated that
they were seeing increased numbers arriving from southern
Afghanistan, a group that had previously headed to Pakistan for
refuge.

8. Todorovic ended the meeting by stressing that UNHCR itself was
not looking for more funding outside of established channels.
Rather, he and Phillips wanted to make sure that post was aware of
the situation and could help target funding directly to the local
implementers, such as the legal service NGOs. Todorovic again
expressed his appreciation for the FY08 Taft Fund grant that post
received to renovate three schools in Dushanbe. That grant focused
on the long-staying refugee population, those that had been in
Tajikistan for more than 15 years. Only recently have the new
arrivals garnered attention. The integration of the long-stayers
into Tajik society remains a priority of the UNHCR office in
Tajikistan (reftel), and could provide a basis for the further
integration of new arrivals if successful. In the meantime, there
is an acute fear of an impending humanitarian crisis in Tajikistan
this coming winter, which will impact refugee populations that much
more seriously and impair the ability of Tajik society to absorb
refugees.

JACOBSON

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
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