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Homeland Cannot Help. Thousands Central Asians Stranded Abroad Due to Coronavirus

Not everyone managed to receive the assistance from the governments of Central Asian countries in due time. At the moment, many cannot return home, since the borders are closed.

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Мигранты из Центральной Азии в аэропорту Домодедово. Фото: Александр Землянченко/ AP
Migrants from Central Asia at Domodedovo Airport. Photo: Alexander Zemlyanchenko / AP

Tajik Migrants Stuck in Russian Airports Are Advised to Be Patient

Dozens of Tajik labor migrants are stuck at airports and foreign borders checkpoints due to the imposed restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Farhod Abdulazizov has been staying at the Kazakhstan–Uzbekistan border for two weeks now. About 40 other Tajik migrants are there as well. Farhod was returning to Tajikistan from Russia by land and had to cross the Kazakhstan-Uzbekistan border. However, the Uzbek authorities closed the borders previously and did not let migrants into their territory. Now, migrants also cannot return to Russia, since it has closed its borders also.

Farhod says that in this situation, without any money, they do not know where to go.

“We are in a difficult situation, there is no food or clothing. 25 people live in one room. No one is taking any measures to bring us home. Nobody helps, our money is over, there is no food, we are starving,” the Tajik migrant says.

According to the migrants, they tried to reach the Tajik consulate in Almaty and the Embassy of their country in Uzbekistan by phone for two weeks. However, according to Farhod Abdulazizov, none of the Tajik authorities provided them assistance in solving their problem.

Earlier, on March 16, the representatives of the Tajikistan consulate in Almaty were able to help another group of Tajik migrants in a similar situation. According to officials, after their assistance, Uzbekistan allowed Tajik citizens to cross the border and return to their homeland.

However, Farhod Abdulazizov and his companions say that their two-week telephone communication with the Embassy in Uzbekistan and the consulate in Almaty had no effect.

No one in the Tajik consulate in Almaty and the Tajik Embassy in Tashkent answered CABAR.asia reporter’s calls.

No one is taking any measures to bring us home. Nobody helps, our money is over, there is no food, we are starving

The Kazakhstan-Uzbekistan border is not the only place where Tajik migrants got stuck. An even greater number of migrants became prisoners of situation at the Russian airports and at other border checkpoints.

On March 19, the Tajik authorities announced the termination of flights with Russia after the detection of coronavirus infection there. The announcement of the termination of international flights was made only 4-5 hours before departure. By this time, some passengers flying through the Moscow Zhukovsky airport have already checked in the luggage, but were not allowed to board.

Thus, more than five hundred people were stuck only in Moscow airports. Many other Tajik citizens remained in other Russian cities, in Istanbul, Dubai and Delhi. The exact number of Tajik citizens stuck in the airports of the foreign countries is still unknown.

Таджикские миранты в аэропортах России. Фото: ozodi.org
Tajik migrants at Russian airports. Photo: ozodi.org

Particularly distressful is the situation of Tajik migrants at the Russian airports. The photos and videos published by migrants in media and social networks show that many of them, including women and children, are forced to sleep on the floor at Zhukovsky, Sheremetyevo and Vnukovo Moscow airports.

The Tajik migrants’ problems at Moscow airports were widely discussed on social networks.

On March 23, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Tajikistan recommended citizens of the country “not to leave the places of permanent or temporary residence if possible”. It was also noted that the Ministry stays in touch with citizens who are stuck at airports in other countries and provides them with the necessary assistance.

Imomiddin Sattori, Tajik Ambassador to Russia, in Radio Ozodi interview on March 23, stated that “the government is taking all measures possible” to return remaining at Moscow airports labor migrants to their homeland.

After that, from March 20 to March 25, the authorities organized 6 special flights of the domestic SomonAir and TajikAir companies to return migrants to their homeland. However, not everyone could be taken and some of the migrants remained at Moscow airports.

On the night of March 31, nearly 300 Central Asian migrants, including 200 Tajik citizens, were moved out of Domodedovo Airport. This group of migrants claimed that they were moved outside on a cold Moscow night. Another Tajik migrant helped them, inviting fellow citizens to his home.

Tajik authorities do not currently comment on the labour migrants’ situation. On April 7, an employee of the Tajik Embassy in Moscow anonymously told CABAR.asia that the Tajik authorities cannot bring migrants to their homeland.

“All international flights from Russia have been terminated and migrants should be patient until the issue is solved,” the official said.

A lawyer and human rights activist Karimjon Yorov said that none of the senior officials of the Embassy or Migration Service met with Tajik citizens. Yorov added that, in contrast, the Uzbek authorities were able to react properly and return their labour migrants in due time.

“The Migration Agency of Uzbekistan provided remaining at the airport migrants with an overnight accommodation. The head of the Migration Agency personally visited them. Uzbek officials managed to return most of the migrants who had other companies’ airline tickets via charter flights,” said Karimjon Yorov.

Labour migration from Tajikistan is a key driver of Tajikistan’s economy. The annual volume of labour migrants’ remittances to Tajikistan reaches 3 billion USD, which is 35% of the county’s GDP.

Uzbekistan: Not Everyone Returned Home

Hundreds of thousands of Uzbeks were on the other side of the border after the country’s sudden closure. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Uzbekistan, about 7.5 thousand people were evacuated in March.

Most of them returned home on their own, even before quarantine (officially, self-isolation) introduction. There are no exact data on the number of people who entered Uzbekistan in February-March 2020.

It is known that only on January 31, 28 thousand people entered the country.

A significant part of the Uzbeks are still abroad: mainly in Russia, Turkey, the UAE. Only in Russia, according to the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Russian Federation, 42% or about 1.7 million labour migrants are from Uzbekistan.

In late March, videos with hundreds of Central Asian migrants who were stuck at the airports of Moscow and Novosibirsk went viral on social networks. People could not get home through the closed borders due to the virus’s spread. The authorities of the Central Asian countries organized dozens of charter flights to bring fellow citizens back. Within two weeks, everyone who purchased the tickets, was taken out. The tickets cost 10 thousand rubles ($135 then) and above.

Having heard that the authorities are bringing citizens back, hundreds of migrants rushed to Vnukovo (Moscow) and Tolmachevo (Novosibirsk) airports. However, since March 30, Uzbekistan suspended the evacuation of citizens until April 20.

“Everyone who had plane tickets of Uzbekistan Airways, as well as women, children, people with disabilities and elderly without tickets, flew home safely and free of charge before March 27,” said human rights activist Valentina Chupik.

According to her, there were many migrants who were scammed buying the air tickets. Previously they were warned via all available channels of communication not to buy tickets from intermediaries.

The employees of the Embassy of the Republic of Uzbekistan in Russia accommodated the remaining migrants in a hostel with three meals a day and registered them in the migration authorities free of charge.

Since March 26, Uzbekistan citizen Khadicha stays in one of Moscow hostels. According to her, the authorities took care of the migrants. The only thing that worries her is her mother in Samarkand who is left without money.

“Hostel provided us with fresh bed sheets and accommodated us in rooms. There is a kitchen, a bathroom, all necessary conditions,” she told CABAR.asia.

The woman did not manage to get on one of the last charter flights on March 27, since several hundred migrants came to Vnukovo airport that day. They were promised that the flights would resume starting April 20.

The Embassy of the Republic of Uzbekistan in Moscow declares that 160 people just like Khadicha remain there.

Валентина Чупик. Фото: fergananews.com
Valentina Chupik. Photo: fergananews.com

The Agency for External Labour Migration of Uzbekistan has found jobs for interested in it people. Volunteers and activists of the Uzbek diaspora help to collect the grocery baskets for the remaining.

“However, there was a group of rebels who decided to put pressure on the government and headed to the airports hoping that Tashkent would send an airplane for them. Special Police Force moved them out from the Moscow airport,” Chupik concluded.

After the borders closure, the Centers for Temporary Detention of Foreign Nationals, where people are awaiting deportation, are overcrowded. They all are waiting for April 20. However, the evacuation continuation from this date is not guaranteed.

Uzbek citizens are asking for help not only from embassies and caring people, but also from President Shavkat Mirziyoyev. On March 31, an Uzbek woman named Sagdi Kalinina asked on Facebook to launch more charter flights to Tashkent from Dubai, as her mother remained there.

Social networks’ users react mostly negatively on requests to resume the citizens’ evacuation.

Kyrgyz Migrants From All Over Russia Flew to Novosibirsk and Got Stuck There

Kyrgyz citizen Chynara lives and works in Yakutsk (Russia), but now she is among the citizens who cannot depart from Novosibirsk to her homeland. On March 27, a flight to Bishkek had to depart from Tolmachevo Airport; many migrants came there from nearby regions in order to fly to Kyrgyzstan. However, as Chynara said, the flight was cancelled on the same day.


Chynara’s personal photos

“People came from everywhere: from Yakutsk, Sakhalin, even from Moscow. There are no friends or relatives here, the money runs out. The consulate representatives come every day, give nothing but promises, but do not do any good. They come and say that everything is being discussed, but in the end nothing happens,” says Chynara.

Until April 4, she lived at the airport with other passengers, until the administration asked them to leave.

Since March 31, a self-isolation restrictions, a ban on the citizens’ movement and the organizations’ work, excluding certain categories, have been introduced in Novosibirsk Region.

A similar situation develops on the border of Russia and Kazakhstan. On April 1, a deputy Almazbek Ergeshov stated at a parliamentary meeting that 145 Kyrgyzstan citizens are staying in their cars at Sagarchin border checkpoint in the Orenburg Region and cannot return to their homeland.

Many migrants were returning to their homeland from Russia through Kazakhstan by cars, because they could not afford to buy a plane ticket. On March 16, Kazakhstan closed its borders, and then, on March 18, Russia did as well.

In addition, since March 19, the international flights of 13 airlines were terminated at the Bishkek Manas airport due to the global coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic.

The Kyrgyzstan Embassy in Russia commented that local consulate officials are providing support to citizens. 132 Kyrgyzstan citizens were accommodated in hotels of Novosibirsk till a charter flight in the near future.

“Ready to Buy Tickets”

According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Kyrgyz citizens remain in 42 countries up to date.

Due to the Kyrgyzstan’s limited air traffic, many citizens were flying in transit through the airports of Russia or Kazakhstan. After the borders closure, Goa, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Sri Lanka, Thailand were included in the list of countries from where the Kyrgyz citizens could not return.

Many flew there before the emergency announcement in Kazakhstan and Russia, and their return fell under emergency. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kyrgyzstan, Kyrgyz people wishing to return home remain in many countries. Most of them are in Russia, the UAE and Turkey.

Recently, students located in Cyprus published a video appeal to President Sooronbay Jeenbekov. According to them, they repeatedly applied to the Embassy, but were not replied.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kyrgyzstan reports that works on returning citizens who are abroad are ongoing. Data on the number of citizens experiencing difficulties with returning are compiled based on Ministry and Embassies’ hotlines. Since the end of March, several charter flights have been organized to evacuate citizens from abroad. 2719 people returned to their homeland.

According to official data, from March 20 to 30, after the termination of flights to Kyrgyzstan, 326 people were able to return from the United Arab Emirates, 197 from Turkey, and 56 long-distance truckers returned from Iran through a transit corridor provided by Azerbaijan, Russia and Kazakhstan.

According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, on March 29, 402 citizens arrived in Bishkek on a plane from Moscow; a total of 1,442 Kyrgyz citizens returned from Russia, including those who arrived in transit from around the world: Thailand, the USA, France, and the Dominican Republic, Bulgaria, Vietnam, Poland.

The same applies to the international airport in Almaty (Kazakhstan). 168 Kyrgyz citizens returned to Kyrgyzstan from India, Thailand, Egypt, Sri Lanka, and Malaysia through it.

The Tourism Association of Kyrgyzstan also assists in returning citizens. According to its Head Ermek Myrzabekov, they helped to return tourists from Goa, Sri Lanka, Dubai, Malaysia, Phuket, Sharm El Sheikh and Turkey. Most of them flew in transit through Almaty, and from there they were transported by land.

After that, many Kyrgyz citizens from abroad contacted the Tourism Association requesting to help them to return to their homeland. They were not tourists only, but students and citizens who work abroad. About 300 people from Turkey who could not return to Kyrgyzstan applied for help.

“They are now ready to buy tickets. We are waiting for the permits from our government to return our citizens,” said the Head of the Tourism Association.

At a parliament meeting on April 1, Prime Minister Mukhammedkalyi Abylgaziev stated that the issue of returning citizens will be “considered”. However, at a briefing on April 9, Deputy Foreign Minister Nurlan Niyazaliev said that Kyrgyz people’s returning seems difficult and is not planned.

Kazakhstan: Some Citizens Preferred to Wait Abroad

From February 27 to March 16, 435 thousand Kazakhstan citizens have left Kazakhstan, despite the recommendations to refrain from travelling abroad, the Tengrinews.kz news agency quotes the employee of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan.

Since March 16,Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has signed a decree introducing a state of emergency in the republic related to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. In this regard, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs began to work actively on citizens’ return to their homeland.

According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 7961 people were able to return to Kazakhstan during this period. Another 1330 people stated their willingness to return to their homeland.

“According to our data, 288,351 Kazakhstanis still remain abroad, including students with permanent residence, citizens working abroad who are married to foreign citizens, etc. All of them decided to stay in the countries of their current residence,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Aibek Smadiyarov told CABAR.asia.

On March 28, Alima Pardasheva managed to return to Kazakhstan from Ukraine along with 75 Kazakhstanis. She flew to Kiev for an internship on March 3 and was supposed to return on April 5. However, due to the aggravation of the coronavirus pandemic, the organizers of the internship suggested her to return to Kazakhstan after two weeks, while there still were flights.

“I decided to stay and wait until April 5, because I thought that everything would be resolved by this time. However, nothing was resolved, so I started to search for a solution. I attempted to fly out three times, the flights were cancelled. I heard from my friends about a charter flight to Almaty organized by the Kazakh Embassy, so I immediately called the Kazakh Embassy in Ukraine. I explained the situation and they added me to the passengers list,” says Pardasheva.

Kazakhstanis stuck at the airport in Russia. Photo: CABAR.asia

Kazakhstanis in Russia were less fortunate: from March 18, temporary restrictions were imposed at Russian airports and many people were unable to depart. According to an employee of the Embassy of Kazakhstan in Russia, Daniy Akpanbet, 408 Kazakhstanis returned home from Russian airports during the period from March 20 to March 26.

“The command unit operates at the embassy twenty-four seven, we also receive hotlines calls, mainly from the students’ parents or students themselves. Embassy employees go to the airport twice a day to bring food and water. We do not leave our citizens in trouble, but still we recommend not to leave the country,” Akpanbet said.

Currently, Kazakhstanis who are stuck in Jordan request the assistance from the government of Kazakhstan. They claim that almost all grocery stores, pharmacies, banks are closed there, there is no opportunity to exchange the currency. Most of them run out of money for groceries. Many are forced to save and eat only once a day.

Also, several Kazakhstanis are stuck in Philippines, but they claimed that they were happy with everything and ready to stay there until the end of quarantine.

Madina, who is in her final year of graduate studies in Hungary, refused the help of the Embassy. She decided not to take the risks and stay in Budapest.

As on April 2, according to the Minister of Culture and Sports of the Republic of Kazakhstan Aktota Raimkulova, six thousand Kazakhstanis were able to return after the pandemic announcement. The process of evacuating citizens from abroad still continues.

Article was prepared by CABAR.asia reporters in Nur Sultan, Bishkek, Dushanbe and Tashkent

This article was prepared as part of the Giving Voice, Driving Change – from the Borderland to the Steppes Project.

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