15 September 2022
In recent weeks, Tajik authorities have been arbitrarily detaining Afghan refugees and asylum seekers and forcibly returning them across the border into Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.
UNHCR reports that since 2021 there have been numerous cases of Afghan refugees being detained and deported in the country. Most recently, on 23 August 2022, it documented the arrest of five Afghans–among them a mother and three children–who were subsequently forced into Afghanistan via the Panji Poyon border crossing in the south of the country. Raising “grave concerns” regarding Tajikistan’s practice, the agency’s Director of International Protection said: “We are asking Tajikistan to stop detaining and deporting refugees, an action that clearly puts lives at risk. … Forced return of refugees is against the law and runs contrary to the principle of non-refoulement, a cornerstone of international refugee law.” To-date, Tajikistan has not provided an official response.
Since then, RFE/RL’s Tajik service - Radio Ozodi - has reported that more than 100 Afghan refugees have been rounded up and returned, with no opportunity to challenge, or even question, the process. Arrests and deportations appear to be random: Afghans are reportedly apprehended by both the police and security services during raids on housing and work places, as well as apprehensions on the street, generally under the guise of document checks. UNHCR said it could not “establish a single pattern, whether it is because of the legal status, their profiles, violation of the rule of stay, or other. It is a mixture of indiscriminate and targeted arrests and deportation.” Afghans who spoke to The Guardian and Radio Ozodi expressed fears for their safety and said they were not leaving their homes in an effort to avoid arrest.
Shortly before the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan in 2021, the government of Tajikistan announced that it would welcome up to 100,000 Afghan refugees. This, however, has turned out to be an empty promise: in September 2021, the country’s Interior Minister stated that the country did not have adequate resources to host large numbers of refugees and by the summer of 2022 there were less than 10,000 Afghan refugees in the country.
Non-nationals face various restrictions in Tajikistan. As per government resolutions 325 (26 July 2000) and 328 (2 August 2004), refugees and asylum seekers who arrived in the country after 2000 are prohibited from residing in numerous areas–including major cities such as Dushanbe, Khujand, Kulob, and Kurgan-Tyube–which significantly impedes their access to the labour market, public healthcare, and other social services. Persons found to be violating these regulations are subject to deportation and other criminal penalties. Illegal entry is also criminalised within the Criminal Code (despite the country’s refugee law stating that illegal entry is not a crime).
To-date, the GDP has not independently verified the locations in which refugees and asylum seekers are detained in Tajikistan–although some reports have referred to the use of State Committee for National Security offices. Previously in 2016, UNHCR raised concerns that it did not have access to immigration detention sites within the country.
- UNHCR, “UNHCR raises concerns over Afghan refugee forced returns from Tajikistan,” 25 August 2022, https://www.unhcr.org/asia/news/press/2022/8/6306f7274/unhcr-raises-concerns-over-afghan-refugee-forced-returns-from-tajikistan.html
- Radio Ozodi, “"Ҷони мо дар хатар аст." Идомаи "депортатсия"-и паноҳҷӯёни афғон аз Тоҷикистон,” 3 September 2022, https://www.ozodi.org/a/32017212.html
- Radio Ozodi, “"Остановите процесс принудительной высылки!". Афганские беженцы обратились с письмом к Эмомали Рахмону,” 6 September 2022, https://rus.ozodi.org/a/32020439.html
- Amnesty International, “Tajikistan 2021,” 2022, https://www.amnesty.org/en/location/europe-and-central-asia/tajikistan/report-tajikistan/
- R. Kumar and H. Noori, “Tajikistan ‘Rounding Up and Deporting Afghan Refugees,’” The Guardian, 9 September 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2022/sep/09/tajikistan-rounding-up-and-deporting-afghan-refugees
- T. Broekkamp, “In Tajikistan, Afghan Refugees Fear They’re Trapped in a Dead End,” Eurasianet, 19 August 2022, https://eurasianet.org/in-tajikistan-afghan-refugees-fear-theyre-trapped-in-a-dead-end
- Mediazona, “«Озоди»: Таджикистан выслал на родину девять афганских беженцев,” 25 August 2022, https://mediazona.ca/news/2022/08/25/9
- UNHCR, “Submission by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ Compilation Report, Universal Periodic Review: 2nd Cycle, 25th Session, Tajikistan,” 2016, https://uprdoc.ohchr.org/uprweb/downloadfile.aspx?filename=2708&file=EnglishTranslation
24 November 2020
Although Tajik authorities closed the country’s borders to travellers from more than 30 countries in early March, the government initially denied the existence of the virus--even allowing mass public events to be held. In April however, following the announcement that the WHO would send a team to investigate the country’s virus-free status, authorities confirmed the detection of 15 cases in the country. As of 24 November 2020, 11,932 confirmed cases and 86 deaths have been reported.
Like its Central Asian neighbours, Tajikistan has long witnessed significant flows of external labour migration, especially to Russia. (In August, undocumented Tajik migrants in Moscow were targeted in raids--see 19 November Russia Federation update on this platform.) Border closures and flight cancellations, however, have left thousands of Tajik migrant workers stranded outside of the country waiting for charter flights to repatriate them. Between April and October, Tajik officials report having returned 70,000 citizens via charter flights.
In 2020, Tajikistan established a new law allowing foreign nationals and stateless people irregularly residing in the country to regularise their stay by obtaining residence permits, as well as enabling them to apply for Tajik citizenship after three years. State authorities estimate the new law will benefit some 20,000 people, mostly former citizens of the Soviet Union, who came to Tajikistan before the end of 2016.
A signatory of the Refugee Convention, the country has adopted domestic legislation for the purposes of refugee protection under the 1994 Law on Refugees (which was revised in 2002 and 2014). As of August 2019, there were a total of 11,299 persons of concern in Tajikistan according to UNHCR, including 2,287 refugees (the vast majority of whom are from Afghanistan), 2,170 asylum seekers, and 6,842 stateless persons. Research conducted by UNHCR PDES has previously highlighted the severe restrictions imposed on refugees’ and asylum seekers’ freedom of movement, including laws preventing them from taking up residence in large urban areas as well as in border areas and imposing heavy criminal penalties for breaches of movement restrictions (including arrest, detention, fines, the withdrawal of refugee status, and deportation). It has also raised concern regarding provisions in national law that do not conform to the Refugee Convention, such as Resolution 323, which provides that a person who has transited through certain countries (e.g. Afghanistan, Uzbekistan) is considered as having found protection in those countries, which can subsequently constitute a basis for refusal of registration of applications for granting asylum.
Law No.590 under Article 5 of the revised 1994 Law on Refugees provides that the national security body of the Republic of Tajikistan shall detain asylum-seekers crossing the border into Tajikistan who do not have a permit to enter, but who have claimed asylum. In such cases, it must communicate information about this detention to the relevant internal affairs departments within 72 hours, while observing the principle of non-refoulement. Under Law No.919, a person who is forced to illegally cross the state border of the Republic of Tajikistan (e.g. as a result of being trafficked) and who claims asylum, shall be detained by units of border troops of the national security body but shall not be subject to sanctions for illegal entry or stay.
Little information appears to be available concerning the treatment of migrants or asylum seekers in immigration enforcement and detention procedures in Tajikistan--including during the pandemic. In its third periodic report on Tajikistan in June 2018, the UN Committee on Torture expressed concern regarding reports of torture in prisons and pre-trial detention, including deaths in custody, particularly of political dissidents. Having banned prison visits to inmates during the pandemic, on 16 November it was reported that families would be able to visit their detained relatives again.
- The Government of the Republic of Tajikistan, “Law of the Republic of Tajikistan: On Refugees,” 26 July 2014, Tajikistan: Law No. 1124 of 2014 on Refugees, https://www.refworld.org/docid/3eda26b84.html
- The Government of the Republic of Tajikistan, “Resolution 323,” 26 July 2000, https://www.refworld.org/pdfid/415a68044.pdf
- Human Rights Watch, “Tajikistan: Events of 2018,” 2019, https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2019/country-chapters/tajikistan
- J. Kuddosov, “Migration Survey: Migration and skills in Tajikistan,” ETF, 2010, https://www.etf.europa.eu/sites/default/files/m/CB6806112A411877C12578EF0055A7C5_Migration%20survey_Tajikistan.pdf
- A. Li Rosi, M. Formisano, and L. Jandrijasevic, “Lives in Limbo: A Review of the Implementation of UNHCR’s Urban Refugee Policy in Tajikistan,” May 2011, UNHCR Policy Development and Evaluation Service, https://www.refworld.org/docid/4e4b78c32.html
- C. Putz, “Zero to 15: Tajikistan Finally Confirms First Cases of COVID-19,” The Diplomat, 30 April 2020, https://thediplomat.com/2020/04/zero-to-15-tajikistan-finally-confirms-first-cases-of-covid-19/
- RFE/RL’s Tajik Service, “Tajikistan Lifts Ban On Prison Visits By Inmates' Relatives,” 16 November 2020, https://www.rferl.org/a/tajikistan-lifts-ban-on-prison-visits-by-inmates-relatives/30952729.html
- UNHCR, “UNHCR Welcomes Tajikistan’s New Law Tackling Statelessness,” 30 January 2020, https://www.unhcr.org/uk/news/press/2020/1/5e32a8e74/unhcr-welcomes-tajikistans-new-law-tackling-statelessness.html