Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Kazakstan: Returnee Hopes Shattered

Many diaspora Kazaks lured back home by reports of generous government aid have ended up being bitterly disappointed.
By Evgenia Smolayninova

Nukisbai Fazylov, a 32-year-old Kazak immigrant to the western city of Aktobe, has started a legal action against the local immigration department, because his attempts to gain citizenship papers and money to buy a house, to which he is entitled by law, have failed.


Fazylov's case is the first of its kind in Kazakstan, but his problem is an increasingly common one. As hundreds of thousands of diaspora Kazaks return home, the jobs and state aid that they anticipated to start a new life have not materialised.


Marina Vasilieva, a journalist who specialises in the immigrants' plight, says families are lured back by reports of generous subsidies, which rarely come true. She said each returnee should receive 5,200 US dollars, but actually receive less than a fifth of their entitlement.


Far from starting prosperous new lives, some impoverished returnees are turning to crime - four Kazak immigrants from Afghanistan were recently charged with murder in the south of the country.


In the last decade, around five hundred thousand ethnic Kazaks from the five million-strong diaspora - which came about as a result of Stalinist repression and food shortages in the 1930s - have returned from exile in Mongolia, Iran, Turkey, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and China.


They're coming back because conditions for them in their host countries are deteriorating and the Almaty authorities are encouraging them to do so.


In mid-October, for example, President Nursultan Nazarbaev, speaking at the World Congress of Kazaks, boasted his country's generosity towards its exiles, asking "what other country organises special flights to bring its compatriots back to their native land?"


Making it clear that he believed diaspora Kazaks belonged in Kazakstan, Nazarbaev set the nation the task of "convincing our brothers abroad that the homeland remembers them and is ready to extend a helping hand at any time".


While the government is actively encouraging Kazak émigrés to return, the latters' host countries often deliberately hamper their exit, fearing a brain drain of educated professionals.


Beijing has placed rigid controls on their departure. Local authorities were reportedly told to block the exit of any qualified specialists and young Kazaks in general. And the authorities in Uzbekistan are said to demand 100 US dollars from families wanting to return home.


Those who do make it back home are frequently disappointed. According to Altynshash Jaganova, head of the country's immigration agency, only a tenth of migrants can expect to gain state support.


In spite of the fact that thousands of families from Uzbekistan have been arriving since the early Nineties, last year's quota for state aid covered only 600 and 350 this year.


Absorption centres have been opened up throughout the country to provide temporary accommodation for immigrants for three months, which in practice can be extended up to years if necessary.


But what the Kazak state wants is qualified immigrants who can speak several languages, while all too many of the arrivals are unskilled. Most of those from Mongolia, for example, are trained only in cattle-breeding and growing crops, which are of little use in Kazakstan.


Mukhit Izbanov, deputy head of the immigration agency, says the state can only do so much to help returnees adapt to life in Kazakstan. The government can provide aid in the form of housing, cash benefits and assistance with receiving citizenship, he said, but "in all other areas, including looking for work, repatriates must make the effort themselves".


Some immigrants now wish they had never come back in the first place. Bektu Saidygas, who arrived from Turkey in 1993, says after almost a decade of waiting, his family has still not got the house they were promised. "We've had to move flats several times," he said. "Some people couldn't put up with all this and have left Kazakstan."


Many analysts expect a growing number of returnees to head back to their former homes, bitterly disappointed by the reality behind the president's generous-sounding pledges.


Evgenia Smolayninova is an independent journalist in Almaty


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