Central Asia Refuses to Accept Afghan Refugees

With the exception of Dushanbe, all other regional powers will strictly limit numbers.

Central Asia Refuses to Accept Afghan Refugees

With the exception of Dushanbe, all other regional powers will strictly limit numbers.

Wednesday, 8 September, 2021


The Central Asian Bureau for Analytical Reporting is a project of IWPR

Central Asian countries, with the exception of Tajikistan, have made clear that they will not be accepting large numbers of Afghan refugees following the Taleban takeover.

Analysts believe that Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan do not want to let the refugee issues cloud their future relations with the Taleban regime, given the potential for regional infrastructure projects. As for Kyrgyzstan and Kazakstan, they have said that they will only accept ethnic Kyrgyz and Kazaks who want to return from Afghanistan.

Immediately after the withdrawal from Afghanistan, the US asked heads of Central Asian countries to provide temporary asylum for Afghans who had worked with the international forces.

This request was vigorously opposed by Russian president Vladimir Putin, who argued that refugees should not be allowed into Central Asia without visas. Tajikistan and Uzbekistan supported this position, temporarily banning entry for Afghans.

In contrast, the Tajik authorities have been preparing to receive Afghan refugees from the very beginning of the current crisis, making clear that they would accept up to 100,000 people.

Fakhriddin Holbek, a Tajik analyst on Afghanistan, said that such large numbers were unlikely to seek refuge in Tajikistan, as “the areas bordering our countries are occupied by the Taleban, and no one can approach the border”.

The authorities have not disclosed the total number of refugees who have arrived in Tajikistan in recent months but Abdumusavvir Bahoduri, head of the Oriyono organisation for Afghan migrants in Tajikistan, said that three to five families had been seeking assistance every day.

One prominent figure among the refugees is international taekwondo champion Farishta Husseini.

A month before the Taliban came to power, Husseini fled first to Uzbekistan, and then to Tajikistan. She said that she had been repeatedly threatened and attacked over her women’s rights activism

“We wanted to use our abilities to develop Afghanistan, but the Taleban took this opportunity away from us,” she said.

However, the Tajik authorities fear that the members of various extremist movements may be among the refugees. On July 27, minister of foreign affairs Sirojiddin Mukhriddin warned that militants from groups such as al-Qaeda, Ansarullah and the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement - all banned in Central Asia - could enter Tajikistan disguised as refugees.

Despite this, Tajik society remains largely positive about the prospect of accepting Afghan refugees. On social media, many people argue that the Afghan people accepted Tajik refugees during the civil war, and that Tajikistan has to respond with the same hospitality.

Uzbekistan’s position has been far harsher. On August 14, when Atta Muhammad Nur, the former governor of the Afghan city of Mazar e-Sharif, arrived at the Uzbek border with his armed men, the authorities allowed only a few people to cross into their territory.  

On August 30, Tashkent denied media reports that Uzbekistan was ready to accept refugees from Afghanistan.

“To ensure security, currently the Uzbek-Afghan border is completely closed and no crossing through the Termez security checkpoint is allowed,” said the ministry of foreign affairs in a statement. “In the short term, it is not planned to open the Termez security checkpoint on the Uzbek-Afghan border.”

An Uzbek political scientist, who asked to remain anonymous, said that Tashkent’s position could be explained by its intention to establish relations with the new regime in Kabul, with possible secret treaties having already been agreed.  

 “Tashkent is expecting that under the Taleban, they will be able to implement a number of their infrastructure projects in Afghanistan,” the analyst said.  In addition, they hope that the Taleban will not support Uzbek extremists. In exchange, the authorities are ready to recognise the new government in Kabul.”

On August 31, the ministry of foreign affairs of Turkmenistan announced an “active bilateral dialogue” with the Taleban regime, refusing even to accept even ethnic Turkmens from Afghanistan.

The Turkmen authorities also intend to implement large infrastructure projects, in particular the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline, along with power lines and fibre-optic communications along the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan route, as well as railways connecting Afghanistan with Turkmenistan.

Kazakstan is not even considering accepting refugees from Afghanistan, apart from ethnic Kazaks.

On August 18, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev instructed officials to assist in ensuring the security and possible return of this small group to their historical homeland. According to the ministry of foreign, only about 15 families of ethnic Kazaks live in the country, an estimated 200 people.

Omirtai Bitimov, a former Kazak ambassador to Afghanistan and chairman of the AFG-QAZ Kazak-Afghan development association, said that he believed that while members of the diaspora would return to Kazakstan, others would prefer to seek asylum in the West.

Kyrgyzstan’s position regarding Afghan refugees is similar to Kazakstan’s, if slightly more generous. Back in early July, the government instructed state agencies to develop a set of measures for possible evacuation.

“We are ready to accept them if they come,” Zhypara Mambetova, who heads the refugee department in the ministry of health and social development, said in early July. “In total, there are 1,200-1,300 Pamir Kyrgyz in Kyrgyzstan who resettled in the country.”

Apart from this, temporary restrictions on the issuance of visas to Afghan citizens have been introduced, except for diplomatic and service visas.

According to official statistics, 73 Afghan people have received refugee status in Kyrgyzstan, with 67 more people under consideration. Mambetova said that had been no new applications for refugee status in connection with the Taleban takeover.

This publication was prepared under the "Amplify, Verify, Engage (AVE) Project" implemented with the financial support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Norway.

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