A slight, kalpak-wearing man from Afghanistan with weathered cheeks, Abduvali Abdulrashid looks out of place at a posh sushi joint in downtown Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan’s capital. He’s a one-man advocacy delegation, seeking Bishkek’s help so that roughly 1,500 ethnic Kyrgyz nomads in Afghanistan can migrate to their titular homeland.
Members of Afghanistan’s tiny Kyrgyz community live primarily in two settlements, known as Little Pamir and Big Pamir (separated by a three-day trek on horseback), in northern Badakhshan Province. Conditions there are bleak, featuring high rates of infant mortality, maternity deaths and opium addiction.
Although foreign visitors to the area offer conflicting reports over whether the combined populations of the two settlements are actually falling, there is consensus that females now comprise only a third of the overall population. That demographic imbalance is jeopardizing the communities’ long-term survival and fuelling a desire for relocation. In the absence of any medical or sanitary infrastructure, even easily treatable maladies, such as conjunctivitis, run rampant, Abdulrashid says.
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Chris Rickleton is a Bishkek-based journalist.