In 2007, the government of Kazakhstan reported that 7,538 persons from countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States live without citizenship and that there are 449 stateless individuals. The actual number is generally believed to be much higher. Refugees who can neither return to their homelands nor achieve legal status through regular channels become de facto stateless upon the expiry of their passports.
Positive steps recently undertaken by Kazakhstan include consideration of new draft legislation on refugees and cooperation with UN bodies and NGOs in the development of the National Human Rights Action Plan for 2007 — 2011. However, Kazakhstan simultaneously continues to placate its powerful neighbors, leaving unrecognized refugees from Chechnya, China, and Uzbekistan at risk of statelessness.
According to the country’s 1991 law on citizenship, every person residing on the territory of Kazakhstan has the right to apply for naturalization, a process which favors ethnic Kazakhs and effectively, though not overtly, bars other ethnicities from gaining citizenship. Coupled with the difficulty, expense, and time required to gain citizenship, the previous requirement that applicants renounce their current citizenship at the outset engendered a form of statelessness. Applicants are issued residence permits, giving them the right to work and to access public services, but they cannot vote and employment is limited.
Some ethnic Kazakhs eligible for the legal status of “Oralman” — meaning returnee — repatriated upon invitation of the government and under its sponsorship. However, they later had no choice but to return to their surrogate home countries. The requirement to renounce citizenship was amended for the Oralman in 2002, and in the past few years, the bureaucratic backlog has been cleared to the point that the Oralman are no longer considered to be a population at risk of statelessness.