LIFE

Personal story: If I knew being stateless would be so difficult…

Stateless people are particularly vulnerable and often lack access to social assistance. Lyatifa Agayeva, a character in the Without Borders project from Turkmenistan, knows from the experience of her own family how difficult it is to live without citizenship.
Asya Akimzhanova

January  20th, 2021

“I came to Turkmenistan with my children from Azerbaijan for permanent residence in 1993. My relatives lived here. I was 32 years old. I got married in Turkmenistan, got a residence permit, but I didn’t change my Soviet passport for a new Turkmen one in time. Now I can’t remember why—probably out of mere carelessness.

Of course, now I regret it so much
I realize that I’ve failed to do everything in time only because of my ignorance—I didn’t know how the law works. If I had known that not only I but all my children would have such difficulties, I would have gone through all the necessary procedures at once.”

Lyatifa has managed to solve her issue of statelessness thanks to the Keyik Okara civil society association, which helped her restore all the necessary documents. In 2019, she finally received her passport as a citizen of Turkmenistan.


Turkmenistan has granted citizenship to 26,000 refugees and stateless persons over the past 15 years. These include some 13,000 stateless persons who have been naturalized since the country acceded to the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons in 2011.

The 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons lies at the heart of the international regime for protection of stateless persons.


The 1961 UN Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness provides specific obligations to prevent and reduce statelessness.


Turkmenistan is the only country in Central Asia that has acceded to the 1954 and 1961 Conventions on Statelessness.

Obtaining citizenship has changed Lyatifa’s life. Most importantly, she was able to get a pension, which is the main source of income for her family.


Now Lyatifa dreams of obtaining citizenship for her children—she has six of them, all of whom are adults. In 2019, the lawyer helping Lyatifa with her citizenship made inquiries to retrieve their data, and it turned out that they were not citizens of any state. Without citizenship, they cannot find permanent employment.

“My children take any job they can—they wash cars or help at construction sites. As they don’t have papers, they cannot get an official job, even though they have the necessary skills.”


One of Lyatifa’s sons suffers from the consequences of a complex injury. A person in his condition would be entitled to disability benefits, but Lyatifa can’t arrange these because he has no papers.


Keyik Okara continues to help Lyatifa’s family with obtaining documents as part of their joint work with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). UNHCR works closely with the government of Turkmenistan and other Central Asian states to address the problem of statelessness and prevent new cases.

Illustrations: Sokhail Amir Layan
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