According to estimates by the United Nations High Commissioner for
Refugees (UNHCR), there are about 17,000 stateless people in Kyrgyzstan.
Most are Kyrgyzstanis who did not renew their Soviet identity documents
after Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan became independent states in 1991 (they
had until 2003 to do so). But a growing number are so-called "border
brides" from Uzbekistan, who married ethnic Uzbek men in southern
Kyrgyzstan and do not possess current papers.
"There are some [Uzbek citizens] who have been living on our
territory for two decades," Makhabat Pratova, the head of Osh Province's
passport and visa office, told EurasiaNet.org. "They have completely
settled here. They have husbands and children here who are citizens of
Kyrgyzstan. But their status is not defined."
Pratova says today in Osh Province alone, at least 3,000 people have
invalid or expired Uzbek passports. "As their passports are expired, we
cannot give them residence permits to help them obtain the status of
migrants or Kyrgyz citizenship," said Pratova. "They are stateless."
There is no legislation in Kyrgyzstan to help these "border brides,"
and without valid passports they cannot go back to Uzbekistan to get
their papers renewed, said Azizbek Ashurov, the director of the
Osh-based non-governmental organization Ferghana Lawyers Without
Borders, which, with UNHCR funding, provides free legal advice to
Most of the cases are found in areas of southern Kyrgyzstan abutting
Uzbekistan. "Most are former citizens of the Republic of Uzbekistan who
arrived in Kyrgyzstan to marry citizens of Kyrgyzstan. After five years
of residence outside Uzbekistan, the national passport of a person
without consular registration becomes invalid," Ashurov explained. "Now
they don't have access to the naturalization process due to their
"They have integrated into the local community. They consider
themselves residents of the Kyrgyz Republic, and their children are
citizens of this country."
Reached by telephone, an official at the Uzbek Embassy in Bishkek
said the mission provides "all possible assistance to citizens of
Uzbekistan whenever they address us," but would not discuss specifics.
The only hope these women have is that Bishkek will grant a sweeping
migration amnesty to allow them to naturalize based on their years
living in Kyrgyzstan. But Kyrgyzstan is not a member to the United
Nations' 1954 and 1961 conventions on the rights of stateless people,
and thus is under no obligation to help. "The statelessness conventions
are the only UN treaties that affirm the right to a nationality and
provide practical steps that assist states in realizing this right,"
said Hans Friedrich Schodder, a former UNHCR representative in
Though many Kyrgyz officials have a liberal attitude toward
emigration, according to Ashurov at Ferghana Lawyers Without Borders, an
amnesty is a low priority while Kyrgyzstan's legislature and new
president struggle to restore a sense of stability to the country
following violent unrest and ethnic violence in 2010.