FIDH and KIBHR call on Kazakhstan to increase protection for migrant workers and refugees


November 2009 - At the conclusion of a two-day regional seminar [1], organised by the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), in collaboration with the Kazakh International Bureau on Human Rights and the Rule of Law (KIBHR), on strategies to strengthen the protection of migrant workers and refugees , FIDH issues a report: "Kazakhstan/ Kyrgyzstan: Exploitation of migrant workers, protection denied to asylum seekers and refugees".

The report sets out the findings of an investigative mission conducted by FIDH in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan in June 2009, which documented the situation of migrant workers, asylum seekers and refugees in both countries. The mission and the subsequent seminar took place within the framework of FIDH’s actions aimed at the promotion and protection of migrants’ rights in the region. [2]

As Kazakhstan prepares to take the Chair of the OSCE in January 2010, FIDH highlights the reforms urgently required to ensure that migrant workers and refugees receive the protection to which they are entitled under international law.

Opportunities for migrants to work legally in Kazakhstan under the quota system are highly restrictive and have become more so in 2009 when quotas were slashed in response to the financial crisis. Such restrictions force migrants into irregular situations and increase their vulnerability. One of the main problems is not addressed in the most recent draft of the law on migration, currently under discussion: work permits are still to be issued to employers with the result that migrants are in situations of dependency, unable to leave or change employers.

The FIDH report also documents cases of violations of the rights of migrants working in the agriculture and construction industries: long working hours, lack of rest days, confiscation of passports, non-payment of salaries and sale of migrant workers from one employer to another. Such violations are generally committed with complete impunity due to widespread corruption within the police, customs, and border officials.

FIDH found the situation of asylum seekers and refugees in Kazakhstan deeply concerning. For geo-political reasons, the Kazakh authorities do not grant refugee status to Uzbek, Uyghur, Chechen and Kyrgyz asylum seekers, whose only recourse is to the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR). FIDH and KIBHR are concerned that the draft of the new law on refugees made publicly available does not conform to international law, in particular the provision that membership of religious organisations prohibited in the asylum seeker’s country of origin is a ground for refusing asylum. FIDH and KIBHR are also concerned that, under the draft shared with their organisations, refugees do not have access to permanent residence status and that there a requirement for refugee status to be renewed on a yearly basis [3].

Similar problems affecting migrant workers and refugees in other post-soviet countries and ways of protecting their rights were explored by FIDH’s members and partners from throughout the region in the seminar held in Almaty from 28-29 November. The participants elaborated a series of recommendations addressed to all states in the region.

Concerning Kazkahstan, FIDH and KIBHR make the following recommendations:

 Ensure that the provisions of the law on refugees fully conform to international law and in particular:

ensure that applications for asylum are dealt with by an independent body;

ensure that refugees have access to permanent residence status and that there is no requirement for refugee status to be renewed on a yearly basis;

ensure that membership of religious organisations that are prohibited in the individual’s country of origin is not a ground for refusing asylum;

abolish the distinction between political asylum seekers and refugees, which is contrary to international law.

 Ensure the full respect of the principle of non-refoulement and the absolute prohibition on torture, in accordance with the UN Convention against Torture of 1984, by refusing to deport or extradite individuals to countries where they face a risk of torture or the death penalty

 Ensure that the new law on migration allows for work permits to be issued to migrants themselves instead of to employers

 Ensure the effective investigation, prosecution and punishment of employers responsible for violations of the rights of migrant workers

 Adopt measures to control the operation of private agents recruiting migrant workers

 Ensure that instructions applied by the police and local administration integrate the provisions of national laws and international conventions to which Kazakhstan is a party

  Increase training and other efforts aimed at fighting corruption at all levels of the justice system, and within the police, customs, and border guards

Launch of a regional call for ratification of the UN migrant workers Convention

Finally, in the framework of FIDH’s Global Call for Ratification, launched in view of the upcoming 20th anniversary of the UN Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families in 2010, FIDH, KIBHR and their partner organisations from Eastern Europe and Central Asia and its members and partners issued a call to all governments in these regions to ratify the Convention, the key international instrument for the protection of this vulnerable population.

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