When the Soviet Union was dissolved in 1991, newly independent states emerged.
These new borders meant that all of a sudden people found themselves on the wrong side – foreigners in a country they called their home, but were unable to prove or formally claim as such.
The United Nations refugee agency estimates that at least 280 million people lost their citizenship during the formation of post-Soviet republics, including in Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan.
Nearly 30 years later, thousands across the region live without any legal trace – many of them having inherited their statelessness from their parents.
Azizbek Ashurov is a Kyrgyz lawyer, and founder of the Ferghana Lawyers Without Borders association. He has spent more than a decade fighting for the rights of thousands of stateless people in his country.
To access those in need, Ashurov and his team first had to figure out how many people lacked legal identity, and find ways to help them. With an estimated two-thirds of Kyrgyzstan’s six million people living in rural areas, the team spent much of their time in the hills and villages of the Ferghana valley which spreads across parts of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.
The work has had an effect.
The NGO has helped more than 10,000 stateless people in Kyrgyzstan gain citizenship, and some 2,000 children now have access to education, health and a more promising future.
Kyrgyzstan is now a leading example of how statelessness can be eradicated – there are no more known cases of people living there without a legal identity.
Talk to Al Jazeera travelled to Kyrgyzstan to meet Ashurov and some of the people he has helped.
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