European Commission seeks to improve immigration policies

A new project by the European Commission (EC), in collaboration with the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), aims to strengthen legislation governing asylum seekers in Central Asia.

“The main aim is to put into place asylum policies based on international standards,” Adriaan Van der Meer, head of the EC’s delegation to Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, told IRIN from the Kazakh commercial capital, Almaty. “The issue of asylum seekers is a major component, but it’s also to help countries distinguish between so called economic refugees and real refugees.”

Launched on 1 July, the 100 million euro [US $127 million] project of the EC’s Technical Assistance to the Commonwealth of Independent States (TACIS) programme aims to establish comprehensive and human migration and asylum management systems in line with international standards by promoting respect for the rule of law in general and the rights of asylum seekers and refugees in particular.

Implemented by UNHCR, the beneficiaries are the governments of four Central Asian states, including Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, as well as local NGOs and specific groups such as refugees and asylum seekers.

In addition to training and equipment, the programme also hopes to improve reception areas that receive potential refugees and asylum seekers.

“I would describe the current legislation as out of date; and which by the way, the countries [in the region] themselves also realise,” Van der Meer said. “They have asked for assistance to modernise the legislation, but that’s only part of the story.”

Additionally is the whole institutional building behind it, including capacity building to detect forged documents, as well as how you handle cases of people claiming refugee status.

“This requires certain training and of course the whole upgrading or in some cases establishment of new reception centres,” he said.

According to the delegation head, a continuing trend is the number of people travelling to Russia and Kazakhstan to work. “These countries, specifically Kazakhstan, have become an ‘end’ destination, while before it was a transit country,” he said, citing Kazakhstan’s economic growth as the primary motivator for people wishing to reside there either illegally or legally.

Kazakh authorities face new problems which need to be addressed, he said, citing the large number of people arriving from Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to what has undoubtedly become the region’s strongest economy.

And while there are no accurate figures on their actual numbers, he explained: “The whole buddle is rather mixed. You have people who are refugees, while others are here seeking work. We need to make a clear distinction between asylum seekers, refugees and labour migrants, and adequate policies need to be targeted.”

For further information on TACIS activities in the region see: