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El Salvador: Law on Refugee Status Determination passed

Briefing Notes, 26 July 2002

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Peter Kessler to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 26 July 2002, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

We are very pleased with the approval a week ago by El Salvador's National Assembly of the Law on Refugee Status Determination. The legislation, which is now pending signature by the President, was approved by a majority of 65 votes out of a total of 89 deputies. The passage of this legislation by the National Assembly is a very important step towards the institutionalisation of refugee status determination in the region. It is a clear sign of the will of El Salvador to fully comply with its commitment to refugee law and the human rights of asylum seekers.

The law, which was submitted to the legislature in late 2001, has been the subject of years of work by UNHCR and its partners in the government. The new statutes establish clear procedures under which refugees can request asylum and have their case reviewed by national institutions according to the standards established in the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1967 Protocol. The new law also creates the Commission for the Determination of Refugee Status that will be overseen by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and by the Ministry of Interior. In previous years, refugee status determination was carried out by UNHCR and recognised by the government. El Salvador acceded to the 1951 Convention and the 1967 Protocol in 1983. Over the years, UNHCR has worked with the government to repatriate more than 32,000 Salvadoran refugees since 1987 and to protect asylum-seekers arriving to the country. We closed our office in El Salvador in 1998 as our activities assistance programmes, mainly for repatriation, wound down. In recent years, UNHCR's work has been focused in the establishment of local structures to deal with asylum-seekers and refugees arriving in the country from other parts of the world. Recent arrivals include Colombians fleeing persecution.

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Statelessness in Kyrgyzstan

Two decades after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, thousands of people in former Soviet republics like Kyrgyzstan are still facing problems with citizenship. UNHCR has identified more than 20,000 stateless people in the Central Asian nation. These people are not considered as nationals under the laws of any country. While many in principle fall under the Kyrgyz citizenship law, they have not been confirmed as nationals under the existing procedures.

Most of the stateless people in Kyrgyzstan have lived there for many years, have close family links in the country and are culturally and socially well-integrated. But because they lack citizenship documents, these folk are often unable to do the things that most people take for granted, including registering a marriage or the birth of a child, travelling within Kyrgyzstan and overseas, receiving pensions or social allowances or owning property. The stateless are more vulnerable to economic hardship, prone to higher unemployment and do not enjoy full access to education and medical services.

Since independence in 1991, Kyrgyzstan has taken many positive steps to reduce and prevent statelessness. And UNHCR, under its statelessness mandate, has been assisting the country by providing advice on legislation and practices as well as giving technical assistance to those charged with solving citizenship problems. The refugee agency's NGO partners provide legal counselling to stateless people and assist them in their applications for citizenship.

However, statelessness in Kyrgyzstan is complex and thousands of people, mainly women and children, still face legal, administrative and financial hurdles when seeking to confirm or acquire citizenship. In 2009, with the encouragement of UNHCR, the government adopted a national action plan to prevent and reduce statelessness. In 2011, the refugee agency will help revise the plan and take concrete steps to implement it. A concerted effort by all stakeholders is needed so that statelessness does not become a lingering problem for future generations.

Statelessness in Kyrgyzstan