Stateless in Kazakhstan: Yerbol’s story

European Union supported programme ensuring every child has a legal identity

Dinara Saliyeva
Yerbol, 10 years old, outside of his house in Shymkent, South Kazakhstan with his brother and mother.
UNICEF Kazkhstan/Dinara Salieva
27 March 2019

At the age of 10, Yerbol already knows what it feels like to be invisible to the state.

When he was born here in Shymkent, Kazakhstan, his mother Zhamilya could not get a birth certificate for him because she did not have the necessary documents. As a result, Yerbol was left without state support from the earliest days of his life – he had no access to the free medical services and education that is every child’s right.

To put it simply, no documents meant Yerbol was not a person.

“Luckily, Yerbol has never been sick, so there was no need to go to the clinic. Yet, all these years, he has not been vaccinated”, says Zhamilya. “And by the time he had to go to school he was not accepted because of the absence of a birth certificate and an IIN (individual identification number)”.

So, how did Yerbol become stateless? In 2002, Zhamilya, her mother and sisters moved from Uzbekistan to Kazakhstan. As an ethnic Kazakh, Zhamilya planned to get registered as a repatriate. But the procedures turned out to be so complicated and so expensive that she postponed the whole process.

“I went to the migration police to find out how to retrieve documents, but they scolded me for not submitting the documents in time and threatened me with a fine. They even said that they could arrest me for the violation of the rules. I burst into tears, got frightened and gave up going there,” said Zhamilya.

When it was time for Yerbol to go to school, Zhamilya faced another problem. The school would not accept him without personal documents. She did not know what to do and decided to postpone his enrolment for a year. A year later, the school’s response was the same.


Yerbol, 10, is having tea with his friend and brother.
UNICEF Kazakhstan/Dinara Salieva
Yerbol, 10, having tea with his friend and brother. Yerbol says he feels embarrassed at school because he is oldest among his classmates. Yerbol is one of the many stateless children in Kazakhstan and missed several years of schooling because of issues with documents.

Zhamilya went back to the migration police, where she was referred to the district police department. There, she saw a poster with information about the Legal Center of Women's Initiatives, ‘Sana Sezim’, an organization that has been supporting stateless people in Kazakhstan since 2016. The organization works closely with UNICEF, UNHCR and IOM to prevent and support stateless children and their families

Zhamilya went to them for help. The organization’s lawyer, Ildar Haliulin accompanied Zhamilya to the hospital, retrieved Yerbol’s birth confirmation from the archive and helped to get his birth certificate.

While the documents were being prepared, the boy started school with the help of the Department of Education. Sana Sezim also helped Zhamilya process all required documents to get a stateless person’s certificate, which in time opens the way for obtaining Kazakh citizenship.

“Children have the right to go to school regardless of their migration status,” says Kulzina Ualikhanova from the Department of Education in the Kazakhstan city Shymkent.

Sadly, Yerbol’s story is not unique.

As Kulzina  explains, not all schools accept children without an Individual Identification Number, and parents must contact the Department of Education – but  many are not aware of these procedures. Having been turned away by a school, many parents simply do not know what to do – and stop trying.

The newly introduced electronic school diary - a digital system where children in secondary school and their parents can track all of their information related to school, including their courses and grades - requires a child’s Individual Identification Number (INN). This means that children without an IIN cannot enroll in secondary school, or post-secondary education.

Yerbol is now in the third grade, two grades behind most children his age.

“I wish I could study with my peers, and I feel ashamed of studying with children younger than me,” he says.

His mother encourages him and says that now he will be able to achieve his dream of becoming an astronaut. When Yerbol goes outside to play with his friends, Zhamilya admits that she feels guilty for the suffering her son endured because of the mistakes made by adults.

UNICEF and stateless children

UNICEF is working to strengthen mechanisms to support and protect the rights of children affected by migration with financial support from the European Union.  

In Kazakhstan, this EU supported work focuses on:  

  • Improving protection mechanisms and case management for children affected by migration, always with the best interests of the child and family-based care prioritized.
  • Enhancing the training of social workers, law enforcement and migration officers.
  • Strengthening national legislation and data collection on children affected by migration. 

Our work aims to strengthen systems for vulnerable children affected by migration, including timely responses to their cases, improving the quality of social and psychological support and birth registration, and increasing access to health and education services. 

In December 2016, UNHCR and UNICEF launched the Global Coalition on Every Child’s Right to a Nationality. The Coalition aims to expand and strengthen international cooperation to raise public awareness about stateless children, and to promote the right of every child to a nationality.