Recently the Danish people exercised their democratic right to vote and elected a new parliament. But in Kyrgyzstan, thousands of people are in reality deprived of this right, because they lack the proper documentation. Since last year, a new initiative has made it even more difficult.
Even though some Danes might have grown weary of the general election campaign, the vast majority have probably been happy cast their vote. With two recent revolutions (in 2005 and 2010) in fresh memory, many Kyrgyz people are politically aware as well, and as everywhere else, all citizens should be entitled to vote.
But for many of the so-called “invisible” people, who are people without documentation such as ID cards and passports, the right to vote only exists on paper. Or to be more precise, it depends on paper, since they are not allowed to vote if they do not have the right forms of documentation.
Left in ignorance by a changing bureaucracy
Our partner, Legal Clinic ‘Adilet’, offers free legal services to help “invisible” people retrieve the documentation they need.
“I guess it might seem strange that the “invisible” people lack so basic documentation on who they are. But you need to remember that the procedure of documentation directly related to the system of civil registration and are extremely bureaucratic and very difficult to navigate.
Besides, many are actually unaware that they need these documents until they have to interact with the public system, and then it is usually too late. Basically, the main problem is lack of information,“ Cholpon Babalieva, PR Specialist at Adilet explains.
The process of gaining documentation can be especially troublesome for “invisible” people, since they are usually poor and weighed down by other, urgent worries on their minds like being able to buy enough food or get through the cold winter.
The attempt to help makes matters worse
The Kyrgyz government is aware that many people are invisible to the public system and therefore it is trying to reach out and improve the voters’ lists. In August 2014, a campaign has initiated to collect so-called biometric data (fingerprints, digital photo and signature) to create a new system of civil registration and voters’ lists.
A system like this is clearly necessary. For example, it was discovered that there is actually 30% less people in the Kyrgyz countryside than previously thought. However, some worry that the collection of this kind of data can pose a threat to people’s privacy if the data is not stored and used securely enough.
Another major problem with the biometric data collection is that only the data from people with passports is collected. This once again excludes the “invisible” people, and at the same time other people, who for different reasons fail to submit their biometric data, will be left out of the voters’ lists. Arysh, another DCA partner working among internal migrants, many of whom are “invisible”, is highly sceptical of this development.
“The idea of a biometric system of civil registration could actually be beneficiary for the “invisible” people, but only if it is separated from passports and other kinds of documentation. If not, this group of people will be left even more behind than they are now. This is clearly a violation of their political rights!” Maamatkul Aidaraliev, representative of Arysh says.
A campaign for 21.500 internal migrants
The government campaign did not target “invisible” people, even though the main purpose was to include people left out of the voters’ lists.
Arysh therefore launched an information campaign of their own in the settlements outside of the capital Bishkek, where the internal migrants and thereby many “invisible” people live.
“We actually had a campaign planned for 2015, but we launched it in 2014 instead, because we wanted people to be aware of the biometric data collection before the parliamentary election in October 2015. First we provided the information to 100 internal migrants from local self-help groups and then they circulated it throughout the settlements.” Maamatkul Aidaraliev explains.
The trained members of self-help groups were dedicated to spread their new knowledge to others, and the campaign was a huge success – the 100 people managed to disperse the information to an incredible 21.500 people in 2014.
The biometric data collection is still going on and will continue until the end of August 2015. Arysh works every day to find new “invisible” people and then refers them to Adilet, who helps them retrieve their documentation so that they can finally have their biometric data collected.
Because of their lack of documents, the “invisible” are also prevented from access to schooling and healthcare, and they cannot obtain a working permit either.
Arysh has so until now identified 288 “invisible” people living in the settlements outside Bishkek. So far, Adilet has been able to provide their legal assistance.
By Sarah Louise Kriesz, intern at DCA in Kyrgyzstan with the support of Cholpon Babalieva, PR specialist of PF “Legal Clinic “Adilet”