Astana develops new Oralman repatriation programme

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.

Revised programme

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.”

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Reader Comments

  • My sister and I came to Kazakhstan - our historic homeland - from Russia in 2011. We are Kazakhs, currently live in Almaty and work as accountants. We have two college degrees each, which we received in Russia. We speak Kazakh well. I would like to find out if we can file an application to rent a place in Almaty, and where we can get help to resolve this issue.

    December 22, 2014 @ 05:12:33AM Макпал
  • There are a great number of abandoned villages across Kazakhstan. We're desperately lacking Kazakhs in 14 oblasts across a 1000 km stretch. We need to set aside money and export whole villages and akims from China and assign them out of people.

    November 23, 2014 @ 12:11:46PM сержан
  • Dear All, In Kazakhstan you will be able to work in different companies where were language skills might be useful. In the first year of your arrival you can get government accomodation and some money for the first time. Most of the people in Kazakhstan are welcoming you and want you to come back. But you have to remember, it wont be easy, you will need a lot of patience.

    May 13, 2014 @ 02:05:21PM Ali
  • It is necessary to create living conditions for Oralmans, repatriates from China, Russia and other countries... For example, offer them public housing without the right to privatization and sale, create conditions for employment, and allow them to settle down in northern desolate areas. All Kazakhs should think of what our nation experienced in the 1930s - enforced famine, and we need to do something to restore the Kazakh ethnicity, unite our nation, and support each other. WHO WILL THINK AND TAKE CARE FROM THE BOTTOM OF THEIR HEART of the Kazakh land, since we are all Kazakh people? [Illegible ]

    March 9, 2014 @ 09:03:29AM Аскар
  • I'm a native Kazakh from the SKO. I would like to say: 1) replace the word “Oralmans” with the much nicer word “Agayyndar” or “Kandastar”; 2) across the border, for example Orynbor, Zhizak, the Bostandykskiy area, Tarbagatay, the Ili-Kazakh territory, Omby, Astrakhan used to be Kazakh lands that were unfairly separated from Kazakhstan, and ethnic Kazakhs keep living there; 3) the Government of the KR should not have reduced or reviewed the number of visas for this year and so much suffice for the next, they are not sheep, they are people and Kazakhs; Kandasar, Bauyrlar; they should be immediately relocated to their Motherland; Kazakhstan has enough money for it; we have oil, gas; 4) help them by allotting 10 acres of land for each family, offering jobs, housing; 5) the Kazakhs who come from China, for example, do not speak Russian; they cannot find a job because they do not know the Russian language; you should control the situation, after all, what is the state language, Kazakh or Russian; 6) do your best to retain Kazakhs in Kazakhstan.

    February 9, 2014 @ 04:02:19AM Брат
  • They shouldn’t call Oralmans - they will be cheated anyway. I found indigenous Kazakhs dedicated to their traditions living abroad, and Oralmans are the real Kazakhs.

    May 17, 2013 @ 11:05:52PM Марат
  • salamon alaikom we are kazakh(naiman tribe).unfortunately we have missed mother tongue.we live in Iran by Afghanian identitiy.we sent our list of families and relatives to kazakhistan embassy in course they sent our list to kazakhistan(8 month ago) but I am Worried about the future in my fatherland!!! actually we will have problems in kazakhistan?

    November 20, 2012 @ 02:11:11AM naiman boy
  • Provide people with housing, and there will be fewer problems.

    October 8, 2012 @ 01:10:31PM Сабит
  • salamatsizba, Im etnic Kazakh from Takhar, i heard about government programme Oralman, we have about 20 Kazakh families in our village and all surrounding nations are threating us very badly, our dream to see our Fotherland and to work for our Fotherland we are living by this dream. How we can apply to this programme?

    February 9, 2012 @ 02:02:23PM Ghulam Rabbani
  • I came here from Russia in 2008 and have not yet received any benefits or assistance from the government. I am a single mother renting a room.

    January 26, 2012 @ 07:01:46AM Жулдыз
  • I have relatives in Uzbekistan, and he is an ethnic Kazakh. Since 1991 I have been trying to convince him to move from Tashkent to Almaty, be he does not want to. They are very poor even though he holds a degree from Moscow University (an economist). He works at the tax services in Uzbekistan and knows Kazakh, Russian, and Uzbek. When he was a student, he completed an internship program in America. In the nineties, there was not such a big difference between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, so we did not insist. Now, we do not know what to do to get his family out of there.

    November 4, 2011 @ 04:11:00AM Турган
  • A good article! Respect to the author!

    November 3, 2011 @ 04:11:00AM maira