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Oralmans must not see themselves as second-class citizens, analysts warn
By Gulmira Kamziyeva
ASTANA – As Kazakhstan marks 20 years since it began repatriating Oralmans, the ethnic Kazakh diaspora, the government is developing a new resettlement programme.
About 300,000 Oralman families, or 1m people, resettled under the Nurly Kosh programme over the past 20 years – moving largely to Mangistau, Southern Kazakhstani and Almaty oblasts and to the cities of Almaty and Astana.
The Oralmans have come mostly from Russia, China, Afghanistan, India and other Central Asian republics.
The emigration of nearly 2m ethnic Russians and Germans during the 1990s slashed Kazakhstan’s population from 17m to about 15m, MP Ualikhan Kalizhanov said. That migration created a demographic problem whose solution lies in recruiting as many Oralmans as possible to return to Kazakhstan, he added.
The influx of Oralmans has benefitted the country by attracting educated and trained professionals to replace some of those who left in the 1990s.
Oralmans who have settled in Kazakhstan include 74 PhD’s and 213 candidates of science, Patris Nokin, head of the Migration Police Committee, said.
“One-fifth of the Oralmans have a specialised secondary education and a tenth of them are university graduates,” he said.
To date, the government has spent some US $130m (19.4 billion KZT) on re-settlement benefits for Oralmans. These include employment assistance, study of the Kazakh and Russian languages, education enrolment quotas, welfare benefits, free healthcare and housing subsidies.
However, many problems remain, Oralmans and resettlement officials say.
“The government has met to discuss this issue and decided to have a new programme developed,” Nokin said.
The revised programme will regulate Oralmans’ geographical distribution, employment and the provision of housing, Nokin said, adding that in the past two years the number of candidates desiring repatriation has grown significantly. During these years, the Oralman annual re-settlement quota has increased from 15,000 to 20,000, he said.
“There have been problems with land allotments ... and with study of (Kazakh) and Russian,” ruling Nur-Otan party MP Aitkul Samakova said. “Not all repatriates are able to prove their ability to pay off a mortgage, and … there’ve been problems with employment.”
If the programme is to succeed, the government needs to involve the public in revising it rather than do so behind closed doors, Almaty Helsinki Committee leader Ninel Fokina said.
“Also, a good programme needs financing and regulation by an appropriate government agency,” she added, while also calling for the establishment of adaptation centres where new repatriates could get an education and work skills.
In the past year, the Oralmans’ conditions have improved, Samakova noted. In line with the Migration Act passed earlier this year, Oralmans will no longer have to wait years for Kazakhstani citizenship; they may receive it after a year in the country, and the application review period has shrunk from six months to three, she said.
World Kazakh Association co-ordinator Botagoz Watkhan called the new programme “very important.”
“It will provide repatriates with housing and jobs,” she said. “Employment is the most important thing for anyone; other things will sort themselves out with time. … I believe a revised programme will bring more members of the Kazakh diaspora to Kazakhstan.”
Why Oralmans need help
Farida Dauren, 24, came to Kazakhstan from China 18 months ago but is still waiting for citizenship.
“My friends and I, who came from China, feel like second-class people in our historical homeland,” she said. “Back in China, I took a special course to get adapted to society here. My friends don’t speak any Russian at all and can’t find jobs.”
“You can’t learn Russian or Kazakh in a year’s time well enough to be able to work, and … not only the government but also repatriates themselves need more time,” Zhamylov said. “Over the years, Oralmans have chosen to live largely in a few particular oblasts, a situation that we’re reviewing now so that we can decide to which regions they should be directed.”
Authorities must not wait to tackle problems because Oralmans could become disgruntled, Fokina said, adding that migration policy failures have caused incidents like the lingering oil worker strikes in Mangistau and Aktau and police clashes with Aktobe religious groups.
“There are representatives of non-traditional Muslim faiths among the repatriates,” Fokina said. “Clearly, their religious movements and traditions are somewhat different after so many years and even centuries abroad.”
“This is why it’s so critical for the revised programme to provide for bringing Kazakh traditions and customs, including religious traditions, home to the Oralmans,” Zhamylov added.
The state has devoted sufficient attention to Oralmans and migration policy, Senator Gani Kasymov contended, who supports the new programme.
“Repatriates have received considerable government support,” he said. “We have pursued a policy of ‘soft assimilation,’ inviting people to repatriate and offering them travelling allowances, jobs and housing. The government has given this policy support in all directions. But there may be some who feel dissatisfied because they want still more warmth and care. This is not a shortcoming of the state; it’s a shortcoming of local officials.”