Kyrgyzstan considers labour migration to be “part of the national development strategy” with remittances accounting for a substantial part of the country’s economy. Large numbers of Kyrgyz nationals work in countries across Asia and Europe, including in particular Russia (which recorded 959,000 border crossings by Kyrgyz nationals in 2019), Kazakhstan, and Turkey. In 2019, 29.2 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) was made up of remittances, which places Kyrgyzstan amongst the top five countries with respect to remittances as a share of GDP.
The COVID-19 pandemic, however, has underscored the economic vulnerability of countries that rely on remittances. As previously reported on this platform (see 19 November Uzbekistan update), labour migrants in Russia were almost twice as likely to lose jobs than Russian nationals. According to the Kyrgyz Embassy in Russia, more than half of all Kyrgyz migrants in the country lost their jobs during the pandemic–a fact that has led to a significant drop in remittances and growing concerns for the Kyrgyz economy.
During the early months of the pandemic, when borders temporarily closed and flights were suspended, many Kygyz migrant workers who sought to return home due to job losses found themselves stranded in Russia. When rumours circulated that the border would open in Orenburg Oblast to enable transit through Kazakhstan, an estimated 600 Kyrgyz migrants arrived in the area, where they were forced to wait for several weeks in overcrowded tent camps until buses arrived. By 22 May, those stranded in the area had been returned to Kyrgyzstan–although upon arrival, many were placed in a newly erected quarantine facility in the Semetey Observation facility (formerly the U.S. Ganci Airbase) in Chui Oblast. On 18 May, a group of detained returnees protested their confinement in the facility–and rumours that they would continue to undergo quarantine restrictions while those testing positive for COVID-19 were being released. According to media reports, several returnees attacked doctors and attempted to overturn an ambulance. Following the riot, most of the returnees were permitted to leave and to complete their quarantine period at home.
By 24 August, some 35,469 Kyrgyz migrants had been returned from Russia via charter flights and bus transfers. Nevertheless, the Kyrgyz government faced criticism for its delays in returning nationals stranded in Russia. Kyrgyz authorities argued that employment opportunities remained more favourable in Russia. The Kyrgyz Ambassador to Russia said, “The Russian economy is stronger and more stable than ours. After quarantine, the economic crisis will continue around the world. I advised our countrymen to wait here and not to go anywhere.”
There have been sporadic reports about the use of immigration detention in Kyrgyzstan. In mid-2020, Human Rights Watch raised concerns regarding the detention of an Uzbek asylum seeker (journalist Bobomurod Abdullaev) in the Kyrgyz State Committee for National Security (GKNB) detention facility. Previously, in 2006, UNHCR raised concerns regarding the detention of four Uzbek refugees (fleeing from the unrest and security crackdown in Uzbekistan’s Andijan region) in Osh Pre-Trial Detention Centre. In 2020, this facility was subject to complaints, including accusations of ill-treatment by detainees. The GDP has been unable to confirm whether the centre continues to confine non-nationals for immigration-related reasons, or what steps–if any–authorities have taken to protect detainees during the pandemic.
- BBC, “Коронавирус вернул мигрантов домой. Это грозит нищетой их семьям и резким спадом – местным экономикам,” 25 June 2020, https://www.bbc.com/russian/features-53167907
- Migration Data Portal, “Remittances,” Central Asia Program (CAP), 18 November 2020, https://migrationdataportal.org/themes/remittances#:~:text=In%202019%2C%20in%20current%20USD,billion)%20(ibid
- I. Kuznetsova et al, “Migration and COVID-19: Challenges and Policy Responses in Kyrgyzstan,” 1 December 2020, https://capgwu.b-cdn.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/Final-CAP-Paper-247.pdf
- Eurasianet, “Dashboard: Coronavirus in Eurasia – May 18-24,” 25 May 2020, https://eurasianet.org/dashboard-coronavirus-in-eurasia-may-18-24
- Kloop, “Из Оренбургской области на родину возвращаются еще 448 кыргызстанцев,” 22 May 2020, https://kloop.kg/blog/2020/05/22/iz-orenburgskoj-oblasti-na-rodinu-vozvrashhayutsya-eshhe-448-kyrgyzstantsev/
- Human Rights Watch, “Kyrgyzstan: Don’t Return Asylum Seeker to Uzbekistan,” 12 August 2020, https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/08/12/kyrgyzstan-dont-return-asylum-seeker-uzbekistan
- Uzbek Forum for Human Rights, “Uzbek Journalist Bobomurod Abdullaev At Risk of Extradition From Kyrgyzstan on Political Charges,” 12 August 2020, https://www.uzbekforum.org/uzbek-journalist-bobomurod-abdullaev-at-risk-of-extradition-from-kyrgyzstan-on-political-charges/
- UNHCR, “UNHCR Concerned for Four Refugees in Detention in Kyrgyzstan,” 9 January 2006, https://www.unhcr.org/uk/news/press/2006/1/43c28cb04/unhcr-concerned-four-refugees-detention-kyrgyzstan.html
- 24.kg, “Cells for Temporary Detention Center in Bishkek Overcrowded,” 19 June 2020, https://24.kg/english/156635_Cells_of_temporary_detention_center_in_Bishkek_overcrowded_____/
- Migrant Camp in the Orenburg Region in Russia, (Current Time, “448 More Kyrgyz Citizens Return Home from Orenburg Region,” Kloop, 22 May 2020, https://kloop.kg/blog/2020/05/22/iz-orenburgskoj-oblasti-na-rodinu-vozvrashhayutsya-eshhe-448-kyrgyzstantsev/)