LIFE

Personal story: it took me more than 20 years to restore my stolen passport 

Stateless persons face all sorts of difficulties and limitations throughout their lives. For many women without citizenship the situation is even more dire for absence of proper documents prevents them from registering birth of their children and, as a consequence such children are deprived of education and access to medical care. How not to give up under the pressure of such circumstances and continue fighting? Let us see how Svetlana Cherepkina from Kazakhstan did just that. 
Asya Akimzhanova

December 28th, 2020

24 years ago Svetlana Cherepkina became a stateless person. She received a USSR passport in the city of Krasny Sulin in Rostov oblast of Russian Federation in August of 1995 and a year later that very passport was stolen from her. 

Irina Tohtakhunova

Svetlana Cherepkina’s mother:

“Myself and my kids were born in Kyrgyzstan, in Bishkek. It is the country that we call our own, we have been living here for nearly all of our life. In the 90-s my husband had to move to Russia and we went there all together. In fact, we did this trip twice – we lived for three years every time in Rostov oblast but because our life was in Kyrgyzstan we returned back home. In March 1996 we came back to Bishkek and my daughter Svetlana’s passport was stolen on the way home”. 

The document was put on the shelf 

Svetlana and her relates did everything they could to restore the identification documents but kept on encountering new challenges. Svetlana needed a certificate from Russia confirming the fact of their family really spending several years in Russia.


“We have been repeatedly requesting the certificate from Russia every six months to no avail, - says Irina Tohtakhunova. In order to send a new request we had to provide 10 other certificates from various institutions and we collected them twice a year. It was not free of charge either”. 

Once in a conversation with some acquaintances Svetlana mentioned her problem and they advised her to contact “Adilet” legal clinic in Bishkek. 
The Adilet Legal Clinic public association is a human rights organization of Kyrgyzstan established in May 2020. To date Adilet brings together more than 40 lawyers, defense lawyers and student volunteers. 
As Svetlana recalled, she was very well treated at the clinic – they listened to her story and helped her collect all necessary documents. The staff of Adilet had been actively supporting Svetlana and provided free legal representation in her interaction with state authorities in obtaining of a new passport.

In 2012 the certificate from Russia has finally arrived and Svetlana got closer to getting her passport. However, on account of red tape Svetlana’s problem was not resolved then.


During these years Svetlana has got a family of her own. She now has four children: son Vladislav and three daughters Alexandra, Diana and Miroslava. But, because Svetlana did not have a passport neither of her children received birth certificate.


There were other problems caused by the absence of identification documents. For instance, Svetlana could not get employed and she had to rely on her mother for financial support. Neither Svetlana nor her kids could get treated at the hospital. One of the girls had very serious sight impairment but Svetlana could never get a status of disability for her. The children could not be accepted by a kindergarten or a school. Eventually she succeeded in sending her younger daughters to school, but the elderly Vladislav did not receive any formal education.

Deputy minister took the matter in hand 

Two years ago the family began acting even more decisively. Irina has recollected her courage and went to see Minister of Justice. The Minister was absent but his deputy who received her instead carefully listened to her and understood that her situation was long overdue. He took charge and the case gained traction. 

In three days Svetlana received her passport
In the course of the following days her children received identification documents too. 


Svetlana and her children were amongst more than 13000 persons in Kyrgyzstan who due to a variety of reasons found themselves in a status of statelessness but who managed to overcome this problem thanks to the joint efforts of the state and non-governmental organizations with the support of the UN Refugee Agency (The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees — UNHCR) under a global campaign #IBelong. In 2019 Kyrgyzstan became the first country in the world who eliminated all the known cases of statelessness.


#IBelong global campaign launched by UNHCR in 2014 aims at eradication of statelessness in the world by 2024. Under the #IBelong campaign the UNHCR works in collaboration with the governments, other UN agencies and civil society to make sure that every person could have a citizenship and could enjoy all the pertinent rights.

Illustrations: Sokhail Amir Layan
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