Kazaks Shut Kyrgyz Out Ahead of Vote

Market traders from Kyrgyzstan are deported as Kazakstan tightens security for the presidential election.

Kazaks Shut Kyrgyz Out Ahead of Vote

Market traders from Kyrgyzstan are deported as Kazakstan tightens security for the presidential election.

Kyrgyz migrant workers in Kazakstan say they have been summarily deported ahead of the country's presidential election.

In a further sign that the Kazak authorities fear "contagion" from the Kyrgyz revolution which ousted long-time president Askar Akaev, the border between the two countries has been closed to most traffic.

Police raids on migrants have being going on in major cities since November 25, and law officers in the former capital Almaty have forcibly ejected at least 200 Kyrgyz workers, putting them on buses and dumping them on the border. Because this counts as formal deportation, the authorities are putting a stamp in the migrants' passports barring them from re-entering Kazakstan for at least three years.

There are around 150,000 Kyrgyz citizens working in Kazakstan, of whom some 70,000 are believed to work as traders in Almaty, which is located close to the Kyrgyz border.

On November 28, over 50 people who work as market traders in Kazakstan gathered outside the main government building in the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek demanding that the authorities address their concerns.

The protesters said that at eight in the morning the previous day, when they had just arrived at their market stalls in Almaty, police officers arrived and arrested all Kyrgyz nationals without giving any explanation.

According to one of the traders, who gave his name as Almaz, the detainees were kept locked up for almost 12 hours. “We were not fed, and weren't even allowed to go to the toilet. There was a pregnant woman with us, and when we asked the police to let her go at least, they took two people into the next room and beat them up. After that, no one dared asked for anything.”

Another protester, Tamara, said the police demanded 10,000 tenge, about 80 US dollars, from each of them and promised to release them. “Many of us gave them the money in the hope of returning home. But even when they got it, they didn't let us out, but put us all onto two buses and took us to Kordai, where we were left on the border at two in the morning. We had to return to Bishkek [some 20 kilometres away] on foot.”

The migrants say their goods were simply left lying on the stalls when the police took them away. One woman called Ainagul said, “Many women had small children left behind at schools, kindergartens or at home. Some even had babies left behind there.”

Asanbek told IWPR with tears in his eyes that his three-year-old daughter was left behind, “They took me by force and pushed me into the bus, and they took my wife. I don’t know what to do; I am so worried for my daughter. She was left with our Uighur neighbours, and I don’t know how she is doing there.”

The Kazak authorities are adamant that what happened was an entirely legal ejection.

“The deportation was applied to people who had committed grave breaches oif passport and visa regulations,” the Kazak ambassador in Bishkek, Umarzak Uzbekov, told a press conference on November 30. “These citizens did not have valid registration on the territory of Kazakstan, and they refused to leave Kazakstan.”

Almaty police told IWPR that the deportations were part of a much wider campaign to round up illegal immigrants from any foreign country. Of the 3,000 foreign nationals who deported, 150 were Kyrgyz found to be in breach of residence and labour legislation.

The protesting traders, however, say they did have the right visa papers and temporary residence permits, but Kazak police confiscated these.

They say that while they were being transferred to the buses, policemen told them they must remain in their own country until the December 4 presidential election was over.

But when they arrived on the border, their passports were stamped “deported”.

“All the capital that we've accumulated over many years has been left behind there; it amounts to between 5,000 and 50,000 dollars [each]. With this stamp, we can’t go back to Kazakstan now. If we do go, their laws say we will be arrested and imprisoned for a year,” said trader Ulan.

The Kyrgyz consulate in Almaty confirmed that the deportation stamp meant the traders would not be able to enter Kazakstan for three years.

The head of the Kyrgyz government committee for migration and employment, Aigul Ryskulova, suggested that Kyrgyz nationals were not being singled out. “It cannot be said that the Almaty mayor's office is deliberately deporting only citizens of Kyrgyzstan….. [the traders] were deported as part of a campaign by migration police in the city."

However, Juma Abdullaev, deputy head of the Zamandash Association, which represents Kyrgyz migrants, is certain that the deportations are political. “We have information that the Kazak authorities think there are participants in the [March 2005] Kyrgyz revolution among the migrants. So now this preventive action is being taken,” he said.

Kubanychbek Isabekov, who heads the Kyrgyz parliament's committee on migration, said the Kazak move represented a violation of human rights. “Two hundred and fifteen of our citizens have been deported by deception," he said. "Under the Administrative Law Code of Kazakstan, deportation can only take place by court decision.”

According to Aziza Abdirasulova, who heads Kylym Shamy, a Kyrgyz human rights foundation, “Citing the presidential elections is not reasonable. We too have held parliamentary and presidential elections, but we didn’t deport anyone.”

One of the deportees, Arslan Bakashev, insisted the migrants are apolitical.

“We businessmen and shuttle-traders are the most peaceful of people. We don't part in demonstrations or rallies, and we aren't involved in politics…. We have to feed our families. We don't do any harm to Kyrgyzstan or Kazakstan; on the contrary we bring them both benefits - Kazakstan in the form of taxes, and Kyrgyzstan in the shape of at least 50 dollars that each of us sends home every month.”

Ryskulova and Kyrgyz consular officials in Almaty now intend to press for the traders to be allowed to come back and reclaim their property.

In the short term, however, the restrictions are getting tougher. Kazakstan's National Security Service announced on November 29 that the border between the two countries had been closed to everyone except those with a diplomatic passports or work-trip permits. Ambassador Uzbekov said the restrictions would continue until December 8 "in order to ensure security during the presidential election".

Cholpon Orozobekova is a correspondent of radio Azattyk, the Kyrgyz service of RFE/RL.
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