Despite soaring infection rates in many parts of the world, authorities in Turkmenistan continue to deny the existence of Coronavirus within the country and have failed to promote preventive measures such as social distancing. At the end of December, the country extended the suspension of international flights, as well as domestic rail and bus services, until at least 31 January 2021. Land borders with Afghanistan, Iran, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan are due to remain closed until further notice. The only persons permitted to enter the country are Turkmen nationals, diplomats, permanent residents, and workers in critical industries and key infrastructure–all of whom are required to quarantine for 14 days in a state-run facility upon entry. Details of this facility, and conditions within it, remain scarce.
Authorities regularly suppress and retaliate against independent media, which makes it difficult to develop a reliable picture of the situation in the country. However, reports from European-based news outlets with sources inside the country have maintained that prisons and schools have witnessed outbreaks, and that hospitals have become increasingly overcrowded with patients suffering “pneumonia-like” symptoms. In October, for example, RFE/RL reported that the DZ-K/8 Women’s Correctional Facility in Dashoguz had witnessed a “big” outbreak, in which at least three inmates had died. Reportedly, authorities established a quarantine block at the centre housing more than 200 inmates–some of whom were “in grave condition.”
Turkmenistan does not experience significant migratory pressure, and it is unclear whether any non-nationals are confined in detention facilities. Although national law provides for granting refugee status and asylum, no-one has been granted refugee status since 2009, when the Turkmen government took over Refugee Status Determination from UNHCR. No new asylum seekers have been registered since 2005.
The government routinely denies freedom of movement to its citizens. According to Turkmen law, people are to be banned from leaving “if their exit contravenes the interests of the national security of Turkmenistan.” Migration officials reportedly stop non-approved travellers at the airport to prevent them from departing. According to the U.S State Department’s 2020 Trafficking in Persons report, these policies make Turkmen nationals who wish to leave the country unofficially vulnerable to traffickers.
- RFE/RL, “Licorice Root As Potion To Tackle ‘Lung Disease’ In ‘Coronavirus-Free’ Turkmenistan,” 13 January 2021, https://www.rferl.org/a/licorice-root-as-potion-to-tackle-lung-disease-in-coronavirus-free-turkmenistan/31045525.html
- Gardaworld, “Turkmenistan: Authorities Extend COVID-19 Related International and Domestic Travel Restrictions Until at Least Jan. 31,” 30 December 2020, https://www.garda.com/crisis24/news-alerts/423761/turkmenistan-authorities-extend-covid-19-related-international-and-domestic-travel-restrictions-until-at-least-jan-31-update-8
- Human Rights Watch, “Turkmenistan Denies Apparent Covid-19 Outbreak,” 27 June 2020, https://www.hrw.org/node/375624/printable/print
- RFE/RL, “Deadly Prison Outbreak Belies Turkmenistan’s ‘Coronavirus-Free’ Claim,” 16 October 2020, https://www.rferl.org/a/deadly-prison-outbreak-belies-turkmenistan-s-coronavirus-free-claim/30897206.html
- U.S State Department, “Trafficking in Persons Report: 2020,” June 2020, https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/2020-TIP-Report-Complete-062420-FINAL.pdf
- U.S State Department, “2019 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Turkmenistan,” https://www.state.gov/reports/2019-country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/turkmenistan/