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

Kyrgyzstan Struggles to Cope with Migrants

The forced eviction of squatters has highlighted the problem of urban migration. By Nataliya Domagalskaya and Aida Kasymalieva in Bishkek (RCA No. 277, 16-Apr-04)
By IWPR


Unfinished workers' dormitory at the meat-packing factory

Evicted residents making a fire in front of their makeshift camp

One of the fifteen small children whose families were evicted

Evicted resident preparing his supper
Photos © Dinara Makesheva

It has also highlighted the government’s inability to deal with the growing number of migrants. According to the International Organisation on Migration, one third of the residents of Kyrgyzstan have changed their residence in the past decade and the population of Bishkek has increased by 35-45 per cent. The United Nations has warned that the city’s infrastructure will be unable to cope with the change.


On March 30, 64 families were evicted by police from an unfinished dormitory for workers at a meat-packing factory, following a decision by the Bishkek Leninsky district court.


Almaz Kulboldiev, the factory’s deputy director, told IWPR that the presence of the squatters had forced them to halt construction work on the building, which was intended to house a hundred of their employees.


The families, who had been living illegally in the building for almost five years, have now been forced to set up a makeshift camp in the courtyard, with only plastic sheets and rags for shelter.


The freezing conditions have already claimed their first victim, 25-year-old Aiym Mambetalieva, who died from hypothermia after spending several days in the open. According to human rights activist Tursunbek Akunov, there are 15 babies and six disabled people among those evicted.


“Legally speaking, the factory management is right,” Akunov told IWPR, “but there is also a moral dimension to the issue. The authorities have not yet done anything to help these 500 people. How can we talk about civil society when people are treated like cattle?”


The deputy head of the government’s migration department, Bulat Sarygulov, acknowledges that there is a problem, but insists that making concessions to squatters would set a dangerous precedent.


“Owing to economic instability, the lack of movement on the national labour market and agricultural reforms there has been an enormous flow of rural residents to Bishkek and the Chui valley. The city faces total overpopulation, which would have a disastrous effect on communications and infrastructure,” Sarygulov told IWPR.


He believes the government should encourage migrants to return home by providing them with small loans and employment.


Many Bishkek residents, who see the flow of migrants from rural areas as a threat to the city, also support the police action. “At the moment they are moving into unfinished and unguarded buildings, but tomorrow they could come to me and say, ‘Make room for me, I have lots of children and nowhere to sleep!’” taxi driver Begmat Nurjamatov told IWPR. “This is not the first and not the last case of this kind in Bishkek, when people from the countryside solve their problems like this.”


Others, such as housewife Asylkan Dootalieva, accept that migrants have very little choice. “If there was work in rural areas, why would they come to live in such inhuman conditions?” she said.


One of those evicted is Aishakan Baiserkeeva, who came to Bishkek from the Issyk-Kul region ten years ago. She lives together with her five children and six grandchildren. She has no relatives in Bishkek who she could stay with.


“We are also citizens of Kyrgyzstan. In the Soviet Union, everyone worked. Just because we have no means to support ourselves does not mean that we can be humiliated and treated like animals,” she told IWPR. “We didn’t come here as tourists. If we could have fed our families there, no one would have moved into this horrible concrete box.”


The eviction from the dormitory has not only left the families homeless, it has deprived some of them of their only source of income. Gulmira Usenkanova has six children and a disabled husband to support. Her sons have not been able to find work, but her daughters used to bake pies in the dormitory and sell them at the market. She is now is despair as they have no money left.


Nataliya Domalgalskaya is an independent Bishkek journalist and Aida Kasymalieva is an IWPR trainee.


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