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

Kyrgyzstan: Robbers Target Foreigners

Authorities step up drive to stop local criminal preying on overseas visitors.
By Elena Buldakova

Foreigners are in increasing danger of being attacked, robbed and even killed, mostly by jobless men desperate for money.


The authorities say they are worried this may drive away overseas residents and with them the prospects of sorely needed investment.


At risk are foreign businessmen, embassy employees and representatives of international organisations, students and even Afghan refugees.


In February, two Afghans, Mokhammad Azim Kudrat and Aka Mokhammad, were killed, and over the past three months 17 others have been attacked, according to Said Mukhammed Omar, president of a charity supporting the refugees.


"We came here from Afghanistan hoping for a peaceful life but just look at what's happening! Robbers think foreigners have money and are easy prey," Omar told IWPR.


The Kyrgyz general prosecutor's office said there were 88 crimes against foreign citizens in 2001, with the number nearly doubling last year.


Keneshbek Dushebaev, the deputy minister of internal affairs, admitted the problem was serious and that authorities had to tackle it immediately.


Sumar Nasiz, a senior assistant at the general prosecutor's office, said the targets are mainly citizens of Turkey, China, Pakistan, the United States and South Korea - countries that send the highest numbers of visitors to Kyrgyzstan.


General Prosecutor Myktybek Abdyldaev told IWPR that stopping crimes against foreigners was a "point of honour" for Kyrgyzstan. "We will pay special attention to them," he said. "We should fulfil our international obligations and make sure foreign citizens are safe."


Mehmet Ali Tunç, a businessman from Turkey, said three men attacked him in the lift of his apartment block, stealing his mobile phone and 30 US dollars, "They knocked me out and I recovered two or three hours later in hospital."


Afghan Avsarkhan Mukhammad Anvar was approached by two burly men near his home after selling his car for 1300 dollars in the local market. They showed him fake police ID papers, before beating him unconscious and taking his cash.


"I was planning to use the money from the sale of the car to buy a stall at the market and goods to sell. I also wanted to send money to my old parents in Afghanistan," he said.


Kyrgyz law enforcement agencies say criminals expect foreigners to be carrying large amounts of money and can easily identify them by their clothes and behaviour. But they say they face a number of problems in investigating such crimes.


"Sometimes, it's the foreigners' fault that we cannot solve these cases," said Nasiz said. "Often, they don't report the crimes to the police - and instead go straight to their embassies. This wastes precious time. It is always easier to solve a crime when the evidence is fresh."


Another problem is that most law-enforcement agents in Kyrgyzstan do not speak foreign languages, but the internal affairs ministry hopes to rectify this by setting up a permanent group of multi-lingual investigators.


Other measures introduced to help foreigners include the establishment of special groups to explain Kyrgyz legislation and offer advice on personal safety; and the provision of a safety card with police contact numbers and tips on how to act when attacked.


In addition, there will be an information programme for foreign students, designed to encourage them to report threats or crimes.


Meanwhile, police are stepping up their attempts to apprehend those targeting foreigners, focusing their energies on the areas they frequent.


"Usually, crimes are committed in places where foreigners stay - around hotels and elite residential areas," Nasiz said. "We have stepped up security patrols in these areas."


Elena Buldakova is an independent journalist in Bishkek.