asiaNet Eurasia Insight
Tajik students in Kyrgyzstan say they feel safer out of their homeland at the moment. Parvina Yusupov, a fourth-year banking student, told IRIN on Wednesday that her parents were afraid a new civil war could start in Tajikistan as a result of the Afghan situation.
"My mother studied in Bishkek [the Kyrgyz capital], and it was a natural decision to send me and my sister to Bishkek to study. They are happy that we are in Kyrgyzstan. Compared to Tajikistan, it is much safer here," she said.
Yusupov is one of an estimated 100 students from Tajikistan currently studying in Bishkek's numerous universities. Her sister, Zarina, holds similar views. "Bishkek is much more secure, particularly for girls. We felt [regarded] as foreigners the first year, because we are more religious, but now we are integrated, most of our friends are from Bishkek," she said.
Students are not the only Tajiks to appreciate Kyrgyzstan's relative stability. "My uncle tried to do business in Tajikistan, bringing trucks of food. But the country is so corrupt, he had to close his shop, sell the truck, and move back to Kyrgyzstan with us," a young Tajik refugee told IRIN.
With no visas required, Kyrgyzstan appears easy for Tajiks to access. By contrast, Uzbekistan, despite its ethnic Tajik population of at least one million, operates a strict visa regime. Moreover, the Uzbek government's decision to mine its border with Tajikistan has led to numerous deaths of seasonal migrant workers returning home.
Kazakhstan also appears less hospitable to Tajiks at present. Last week, the Kazakh authorities refused to allow in 131 Tajik passengers on the Dushanbe to Moscow train, citing concerns over terrorism.
With the prospect of the situation further deteriorating in the region, Kyrgyzstan has become a likely destination for Tajik refugees. Accounting for over 90 percent of the 11,000 officially registered refugees of Kyrgyzstan, Tajiks have been granted official travel documents and free medical care - an exception in Central Asia.
Mainly comprising ethnic Kyrgyz whose families had lived for centuries in Tajikistan, until their departure during the civil war, these refugees are expected eventually to be offered Kyrgyz citizenship.
In addition to the prevailing apprehension over Afghanistan, drought conditions in Tajikistan have brought many people to the verge of starvation. There is also concern over a possible influx of Afghan refugees, mostly ethnic Tajiks, into Tajikistan. The UN has estimated that 1.5 million Afghans could flee to neighbouring countries.
Tajiks are warning that an influx of Afghans could lead to a rise in drug use. Saodat Asanova, a Tajik student from the Pamir region on the border with Afghanistan, told IRIN on Friday that some Afghans would finance their journey by selling narcotics.
"The only way Afghan refugees can make money to pay all the border crossings on their way to the West, is to sell drugs. People in my region are afraid of this, because half of our youth, particularly men, are on drugs. If anything serious happens, all my family is moving to Bishkek," she said.