1,200 Pakistani students at Kyrgyzstan International University leave country after mob violence shock

1,200 Pakistani students at Kyrgyzstan International University leave country after mob violence shock
Deputy education minister Rasul Abazbekov told a press conference that Kyrgyzstan's carefully built reputation as an education destination for international students was at stake. / RFE/RL news report, screenshot
By bne IntelliNews May 20, 2024

Around 1,200 Pakistani students enrolled at Kyrgyzstan International University in Bishkek have left the Central Asian nation following the unprecedented mob violence targeted at South Asians in the Kyrgyz capital on the night of May 17, according to local reports.

Pakistan repatriated around 180 of its citizens in the hours following the violence directed at students and migrants in the city, which left at least 29 people injured and included attacks on students in their dorms. The latest announcements indicate the repatriation figure subsequently soared.

University rector Asylbek Aidaraliev told reporters on May 20 that it was mainly first-year and second-year students who had departed the country. Some students remained in Kyrgyzstan and had joined talks on the situation, he added.

Krgyzstan’s Deputy Education Minister Rasul Abazbek-uulu described the mass attacks on Pakistani and Indian students in Bishkek over the weekend as "a shameful" situation that "damages Kyrgyzstan's image."

A female student from Pakistan, speaking in English, told RFE/RL's Kyrgyzstan Service that she was “leaving Kyrgyzstan, because the situation here is so [bad] right now and we are so scared that we are leaving urgently.”

She said she was hopeful she could return to finish her degree and that “I hope this situation will get better with the passage of time.”

Bishkek city police said an investigation had been launched into mass disorder and the incitement of ethnic and racial hatred.

The May 17 disturbances were the worst seen in Bishkek since the post-parliamentary election unrest of 2020 that brought current President Sadyr Japarov to power. Angry protesters first gathered close to the site of a clash that in the early hours of May 13 took place at a dormitory between foreigner students and Kyrgyz. As mob violence ignited and spread, there were calls for the foreigners involved in that violent incident—video footage of which circulated on social media, according to local reports—to face justice, while members of the crowd demanded an end to labour migration from South Asian countries including India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.

In recent years, South Asian countries have sent thousands of students and guest workers to Kyrgyzstan, where they are typically paid less than locals earn in the same employment roles. At the same time, hundreds of thousands of Kyrgyz depart their country each year in search of employment. On May 15, 28 Pakistani nationals were detained for "working illegally" in a sewing shop in Bishkek, national security officials said. The same day, police in Bishkek shut down motorcycle and scooter delivery services that were operated with more than 400 foreign students, mostly from Pakistan. They attributed the move to traffic safety requirements.

In his first public comment on the mob violence, Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov said on May 20 that "all of the perpetrators who attacked foreign students will for sure be punished."

"We have managed to build a state based on the rule of law. Therefore, we will support order," Japarov said.

Some critics have taken aim at the Kyrgyz government for, in the wake of the attacks, appearing to direct some blame for the violence on illegal migrants. Officials said the authorities had been taking "decisive measures to suppress illegal migration and expel undesirable persons from Kyrgyzstan."