UNHCR helps aspiring refugee pilot reach for the skies in Kazakhstan

Telling the Human Story, 17 March 2014

© UNHCR/Z.Dossova
Hasib gestures towards an aircraft, confident that one day he will be flying a passenger jet like this.

ALMATY, Kazakhstan, March 17 (UNHCR) Hasib is reaching for the skies. But the bright 17-year-old Afghan refugee has encountered some turbulence in his efforts to become a pilot and lay down stronger roots in a country that he regards as his home and future.

The young man is one of about 600 refugees in Kazakhstan, down from a high of about 20,000 at the start of the millenium. Most returned to their countries of origin, mainly Afghanistan, Tajikistan and the Russian Federation.

Even though they have adapted well in Kazakhstan, many of the refugees that remain wish to be resettled, but UNHCR has been encouraging people to opt for local integration and learn skills that will help them build a better future. Hasib's case illustrates some of the challenges.

Hasib, who arrived in Kazakhstan with his parents in 2002, could almost be a poster boy for UNHCR's local integration policy. He has no desire to go anywhere else. "Kazakhstan has become like a motherland for me and I want to become a citizen and contribute to its development," says Hasib, who is determined to qualify as a pilot and join the Almaty based carrier, Air Astana.

The UN refugee agency has been helping him to achieve that dream. "UNHCR helped me to enter secondary school in Kazakhstan and, later, with the pilot's academy," says Hasib, who graduated from school with excellent grades.

After mediation by UNHCR, the Civil Aviation Academy of Kazakhstan agreed to grant Hasib a 10 per cent discount on his tuition fees. And, because he is such an exceptional pupil, the Ministry of Education and Science is considering giving him a grant worth US$145,000 for his flight training.

© UNHCR/Z.Dossova
Learning how to become a pilot includes mastering the theoretical and practical. Here Hasib studies in the classroom.

But at first he flew into administrative and legal challenges over this issue of flight training, which meant he could only study in the classroom, not in the air. This obstacle needed to be surmounted for the dream to turn into reality and, with UNHCR's help, he has managed to emerge from the clouds and resume course.

Refugees in Kazakhstan are granted legal status as "temporary resident," which bars them from enjoying a full range of legal, social and economic rights that would enable Hasib to proceed with the flight training vital for graduation.

Following concerted lobbying by UNHCR, the authorities reviewed Hasib's case and discussed whether to change his legal status to "permanent resident," which would allow him to complete his studies and apply for his dream job. In late February, Hasib learned that he had been granted permanent residency.

But UNHCR believes that all refugees should be given permanent residency. The refugee agency is advocating for this to be enshrined in law. "We hope the government and parliament will soon amend the National Refugee Law to ensure that refugees benefit from basic and fundamental access to legal, social and economic opportunities," said Saber Azam, UNHCR's regional representative.

UNHCR already works closely with parliament, the government and the Kazakhstan Human Rights Commission to improve the situation of refugees, including free access to state-run higher education. Access to private colleges and universities is not a problem, but most refugees cannot afford the fees.

Even though the refugee community has become an integral part of society, working mainly in the service industries, changes in the National Refugee Law would give young and bright refugees like Hasib more reason to stay in Kazakhstan and contribute to the country's future development.

"Refugees are not a burden to countries of asylum. On the contrary, they are extraordinary assets, contributing to the development of society and well-being of all its members. Refugees have been great politicians, scientists, artists and businessmen, where the host country has allowed them to flourish," Azam noted.

Meanwhile, Hasib is back on course to become the first Afghan refugee in Kazakhstan to become a professional civil pilot. With permanent resident status, he is ready for take-off.

By Zhanna Dossova in Almaty, Kazakhstan

• DONATE NOW •

 

• GET INVOLVED • • STAY INFORMED •

UNHCR country pages

Cold, Uncomfortable and Hungry in Calais

For years, migrants and asylum-seekers have flocked to the northern French port of Calais in hopes of crossing the short stretch of sea to find work and a better life in England. This hope drives many to endure squalid, miserable conditions in makeshift camps, lack of food and freezing temperatures. Some stay for months waiting for an opportunity to stow away on a vehicle making the ferry crossing.

Many of the town's temporary inhabitants are fleeing persecution or conflict in countries such as Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iraq, Sudan and Syria. And although these people are entitled to seek asylum in France, the country's lack of accommodation, administrative hurdles and language barrier, compel many to travel on to England where many already have family waiting.

With the arrival of winter, the crisis in Calais intensifies. To help address the problem, French authorities have opened a day centre as well as housing facilities for women and children. UNHCR is concerned with respect to the situation of male migrants who will remain without shelter solutions. Photographer Julien Pebrel recently went to Calais to document their lives in dire sites such as the Vandamme squat and next to the Tioxide factory.

Cold, Uncomfortable and Hungry in Calais

Afghan Refugees in Iran

At a recent conference in Geneva, the international community endorsed a "solutions strategy" for millions of Afghan refugees and those returning to Afghanistan after years in exile. The plan, drawn up between Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan and UNHCR, aims to support repatriation, sustainable reintegration and assistance to host countries.

It will benefit refugee returnees to Afghanistan as well as 3 million Afghan refugees, including 1 million in Iran and 1.7 million in Pakistan.

Many of the refugees in Iran have been living there for more than three decades. This photo set captures the lives of some of these exiles, who wait in hope of a lasting solution to their situation.

Afghan Refugees in Iran

More focus needed on reintegration of former Afghan refugees

Many of the more than 5.5 million Afghan refugees who have returned home since 2002 are still struggling to survive. Lack of land, job opportunities and other services, combined with poor security in some places, has caused many returnees to head to urban areas. While cities offer the promise of informal day labour, the rising cost of rental accommodation and basic commodities relegate many returnees to life in one of the informal settlements which have mushroomed across Kabul in recent years. Some families are living under canvases and the constant threat of eviction, while others have gained a toe-hold in abandoned buildings around the city.

UNHCR gives humanitarian assistance to the most vulnerable, and is currently rallying support from donors and humanitarian and development agencies to redouble efforts to help returning refugees reintegrate in Afghanistan.

More focus needed on reintegration of former Afghan refugees

Pakistan: Returning HomePlay video

Pakistan: Returning Home

Since the beginning of November, UNHCR has been offering an enhanced package to every registered refugee in Pakistan choosing to go home to Afghanistan.
Afghanistan HomecomingPlay video

Afghanistan Homecoming

Since 2002, UNHCR has helped nearly 4 million Afghan refugees to return home from Pakistan. Recently, Ahmed Shafiq made the journey with his family after 15 years as a refugee. This is his story.
Afghanistan: Mariam's StoryPlay video

Afghanistan: Mariam's Story

Mariam was a refugee in Iran for six years. The widow and mother returned in 2002 and has been internally displaced ever since. Her situation is very uncertain.