Since 2001, Tajikistan has seen an influx of refugees over its southern border with Afghanistan. Amid new North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) offensives and resurgent Taliban forces, it is feared that the number of refugees from Afghanistan may become unmanageable.
The number of Afghan refugees in Tajikistan has tripled since 2008, with a reported 100 to 200 refugees entering the country every month. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 5,000 Afghan refugees are currently residing in Tajikistan. As NATO and Afghan forces intervene in the southern region of Afghanistan, and Taliban forces continue attacks in the North, the number of refugees is expected to continue to increase, reaching an estimated 7,000 refugees in 2010.
Although there is peace on the Tajikistan side of the border, life is continually difficult for Afghan refugees. There are limited services established for refugees in Tajikistan, which is according to International Crisis Group, on the fringe of becoming a failed state ten years after its own civil war. UNHCR provides refugee households with less than U.S. $10 a month; meanwhile, the refugees face language barriers, discrimination, and massive unemployment. Creating further problems, many Tajik citizens see the influx of refugees as a threat to an already scarce job market. Though the budget for UNHCR programs in Central Asia is at its highest level in recent years, new influxes of refugees will require even greater costs.
Tajikistan has ratified both the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, but has yet to bring its Refugee Status Determination (RSD) process and refugee legislation up to international standards. The imminent influx of refugees has facilitated increased collaboration between UNHCR and the government of Tajikistan, providing UNHCR with a major opportunity to push for reform of refugee policies in the region.
In the past, UNHCR has sought to train government officials, institutions dealing with refugees, and Tajik border guards regarding refugee protection; it also implemented a resettlement program which ended in 2006. While some of these older programs may continue, there is a significant need to improve documentation provided to refugees. A recently established Refugee Department under Tajikistan’s Ministry of the Interior could facilitate domestic RSD legislation. According to the UNHCR 2010 Regional Operations Profile for Central Asia, comprehensive plans to reduce statelessness and to increase integration and resettlement programs are also top priorities. There are plans to attempt local integration of refugees who have been in Tajikistan for longer periods and repatriation of willing refugees. Additionally, through assistance from NGOs and the Tajikistan government, UNHCR hopes to implement programs to address children’s education, health care needs, and women’s empowerment among refugee populations.
Though Tajikistan may be on the brink of failure itself, the threat of an immense increase in refugees could be the needed catalyst for overdue reform of refugee laws in the region.