Kyrgyzstan: Migration Prompts Security Worries

Thousands are leaving the impoverished southern regions for a better life in the north - leaving vital border areas under-populated.

Kyrgyzstan: Migration Prompts Security Worries

Thousands are leaving the impoverished southern regions for a better life in the north - leaving vital border areas under-populated.

The continuing migration of poor southern Kyrgyz to the north of the country and even Russia is causing increasing concern within the former Soviet republic.

Parliamentary deputies are worried that the shift in population could have an adverse effect on Kyrgyzstan's unresolved border disputes with its neighbours and undermine national security.

In southern Kyrgyzstan, the regions of Osh and Jalalabad border Uzbekistan, while the Batken area shares a frontier with both Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

Parliamentary deputy Azimbek Beknazarov, who represents the Aksy district of Jalalabad, believes that Kyrgyzstan could face serious consequences if settlements in this part of the country are abandoned.

He claims that Uzbekistan has been systematically expanding its territory along the frontier with Kyrgyzstan which is still the subject of delimitation talks.

"The people of Kyrgyzstan only made the weakest of protests against this, so imagine what would happen if only the most powerless of people remain in the border regions?" he said.

Opposition deputy Ismail Isakov is also asking the authorities to take urgent measures to halt the flood of migrants from these strategically-important regions.

He believes that the outlying areas of the country should be strengthened wherever possible - as happens in Uzbekistan. "The lion's share of investment is channeled into border regions there. Regrettably, this does not happen in Kyrgyzstan," he said.

But high-ranking government officials deny that the republic could lose territory or face a security risk or as a result of the migration.

Deputy prime minister Kurmanbek Osmonov told IWPR that a number of border posts are being erected as part of Bishkek's ongoing border delimitation discussions with the Uzbek and Tajik governments. "These are frontier guards and their duty is to protect our country," he told IWPR.

Other officials see the migration as part of an ongoing movement of population across Central Asia, and argue that every citizen has the right to live wherever they choose.

Government statistics indicate that the south - where more than half the population lives - is most vulnerable to mass migration because of a lack of arable land, unemployment and poverty.

The department of migration and demographics says that less than half of the 700,000 southerners who left for the north in the past decade have returned, and that the majority of Kyrgyz in Russia come from the south.

In Aksy, many young workers were preparing to leave for the northern Chu region when IWPR visited at the end of March. "My husband has been there for two years and invited the entire family to move there," said Kadicha.

"We will have to leave our old parents behind - we have no choice, even though this is not the Kyrgyz way."

Kurmanbek Alimov, who lives in the border village of Toruk, told IWPR that around 60 families had left last year. "We are very concerned that with mass exodus of youth, only non-working elderly will be left in this village and others in Aksy," he said.

Beknazarov estimates that nearly a third of the district's population of 100,000 has migrated in the past ten years. "If you add several thousand people from Aksy who are currently doing seasonal work in Russia - that is a serious exodus of able-bodied citizens from border areas which will sooner or later reflect on the security of our state," he said.

The Batken region is experiencing similar difficulties. Dosbol Nur uulu, leader of the New Kyrgyzstan party, echoes Beknarazov's fears. "In the last five years, almost half of the 20,000 residents of Sulukta - which borders Tajikistan - have left," he said.

Another frontier village, Maksat, is little different. Nur uulu told IWPR, "This town was set up as a border outpost by the government in 1991, but was soon forgotten. The results are sad - half of its population has gone already."

Sultan Jumagulov is a BBC stringer in Bishkek

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