Pakistan repatriates 180 citizens after mob violence in Bishkek leaves 29 injured

Pakistan repatriates 180 citizens after mob violence in Bishkek leaves 29 injured
A Pakistani victim of the mob violence seen during the evacuation. / RFE/RL news video, screenshot
By bne IntelliNews May 19, 2024

Pakistan repatriated around 180 of its citizens on the night of May 17-18 following mob violence targeting South Asian students and migrants in Kyrgyzstan’s capital Bishkek, which left at least 29 people injured.

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.

In Pakistan, students protested against the attacks on their compatriots in Kyrgyzstan. Rallies were held outside the Kyrgyz Embassy in Islamabad and the Press Club in Karachi. Protesters called on Pakistan to ensure safety for its students in Kyrgyzstan. Both protests were organised by the Islamic Students Association.

In Lahore, Pakistani Interior Minister Mohsin Naqvi greeted the evacuees, one of whom was visibly injured.

The government of Bangladesh expressed deep concern over the mob attacks in Bishkek.

Kyrgyz Deputy Foreign Minister Avazbek Atakhanov held talks on May 19 in Bishkek with Hassan Ali Zaigham, Pakistan’s ambassador to Kyrgyzstan. Atakhanov said the situation was under control and added that Kyrgyz authorities had initiated a probe into the incident.

Kyrgyz Deputy Prime Minister Edil Baisalov and Ali Zaigham visited the hostel, the VIP Hostel, where most of the violence took place. There they met with international students. Baisalov apologised on behalf of the Kyrgyz government and the Kyrgyz people for the failure to protect the students.

RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service spoke with people at the VIP Hostel amid claims that police and security forces were slow to respond to the mob violence and gain control of the situation.

"The students who are here only came to study. And now the students are really scared. I know that no country is bad. But, thanks to some bad people and their behaviour, the students are scared. They are someone's children. They came here only to study, and they [the mob] came in and beat them," said Ahmed Faiz, a student from Pakistan at Kyrgyzstan’s International University.

RFE/RL also spoke to a lawyer in Bishkek, Nurbek Toktakhunov, about the mob violence. He said: "The ruling group came to power [forming the nationalist populist Japarov administration] on a wave of nationalist and socialist feelings. So when it is some liberal trying to hold a peaceful rally for rights and freedom, they can get all brutal and say, ‘No more rallies! Time for stability!' But when there is a burst of nationalism and violence, they are suddenly helpless."