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Friday June 14, 2024

Outcry as Pakistani students face mob violence in Kyrgyzstan

Foreign students came under attack by mobs after a fight between local and Egyptian students broke out in a hostel in the capital city of Kyrgyzstan on May 13

By Mariana Baabar & News Desk
May 19, 2024
Wounded students are being escorted upon reaching Pakistan after they left Kyrgyzstan on May 18, 2024. — Screengrab/X/@Iam_Mian
Wounded students are being escorted upon reaching Pakistan after they left Kyrgyzstan on May 18, 2024. — Screengrab/X/@Iam_Mian

ISLAMABAD: Foreign students came under attack by mobs after a fight between local and Egyptian students broke out in a hostel in the capital city of Kyrgyzstan on May 13. At least three foreigners, involved in the dispute, were taken into custody.

According to the Kyrgyz media, on the evening of May 17 locals protested in Bishkek, demanding action against the foreigners involved in the dispute.

The chief of Bishkek’s Interior Affairs Directorate requested to end the protest, while the detained foreigners also apologised later.

The Kyrgyz media reported that the protesters refused to disperse, instead more people gathered at the spot after which the authorities detained several of them for violating public order.

As per local media, the protesters dispersed after negotiations with the head of federal police.

The Kygyz Ministry of Internal Affairs has also issued press releases stating the situation was under control. The Kyrgyz authorities have expressed regret at the incidents of violence against foreign nationals, including Pakistanis, in Bishkek Friday night. They have also pledged to hold an inquiry and punish the perpetrators.

The Kyrgyz Foreign Ministry on ‘X’ said, “Destructive forces in foreign media, especially in social networks, are deliberately disseminating absolutely false and untrue information about the situation in the Kyrgyz Republic.”

The ministry urged media representatives, the blogging community and international partners to rely exclusively on official and verified information from the competent authorities of the Kyrgyz Republic. According to Kyrgyz media reports “a spontaneous protest against foreigners” that began last night in Bishkek ended on Saturday morning after police came to an agreement with the rioters and they have now dispersed.

The Kyrgyz Health Minister reported 29 people who were injured in the violence and 14 foreigners were discharged from hospitals after treatment. The Pakistan Embassy appealed to Pakistani community in Kyrgyzstan not to believe news on social media without verification.

The Kyrgyz Deputy Foreign Minister said the authorities have controlled the situation, which is now back to normal. He said the Kyrgyz police are providing security to all the hostels and the matter is being directly supervised by the Kyrgyz president.

Pakistani students, speaking with Geo News, shared that the riots are continuing in Bishkek and foreign students are surrounded by locals.

“We have been told not to leave the hostels and residences,” students said, adding that they have not received any response from the Pakistan embassy.

The students mentioned that a large number of “mischievous” Kyrgyz youths were present at the Bishkek Manas International Airport. “Foreign students going to the airport are also being attacked,” they said.

Mohammad Abdullah, a Pakistani medical student in Bishkek, told Geo News that the dispute began over the harassment of Egyptian students by those from Kyrgyzstan. The riots, however, broke out after Egyptian students confronted them, he added.

Abdullah mentioned that the Kyrgyz students then began attacking foreign students, including Pakistani students, across Bishkek.

Musab Tariq, an 8th semester Pakistani student in Bishkek, told Geo that the situation in the Kyrgyz capital was “totally opposite” to what was being told by the Pakistani authorities.

He said that he and some other students were staying in an apartment as mostly students there live in flats and some in hostels as well. He said seven to eight hostels and some apartments were attacked last night. “The situation right now is that we are sitting with lights off and pin-drop silence. We can’t even step out,” Tariq said, adding that the situation had been the same since last night.

He said the Kyrgyz government hadn’t provided any security to the students but the university management was cooperating with them.

Other Pakistani students stranded in Bishkek expressed similar concerns regarding the situation.

Around 12,000 Pakistani students are studying in the Kyrgyz republic. According to Kyrgyz Health Ministry, four Pakistani students were provided first aid and discharged, while one is under treatment for jaw injury.

Pakistan’s Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan Hasan Zaigham said that normalcy prevails and all Pakistani students are safe in Bishkek. “There have been no deaths or rapes after incidents of extreme violence by mobs that attacked six hostels that housed amongst others Pakistani students in the Kyrgyz republic,” he said, adding that situation has calmed down now, but students have been advised to keep staying indoors.

Hasan Zaigham met Kyrgyz Deputy Foreign Minister Imangaziev Almaz in connection with the incidents of violence. Deputy Foreign Minister Almaz assured the Pakistan ambassador Government of Kyrgyzstan would take legal action against the perpetrators of the attack. He shared fourteen foreign nationals, including some Pakistanis, were discharged after first aid.

“Ambassador Zaigham strongly raised the concerns of Pakistani nationals particularly the large number of affected Pakistani students and their families. He urged Kyrgyz government to prioritise the safeguarding of Pakistani nationals,” said the Pakistani Foreign Office in a statement.

Pakistani students, who were injured, were allowed to leave hospitals after first aid except one student, Shahzaib, who is still under treatment. According to the ambassador, the student is out of danger. The ambassador visited Shahzaib in hospital, and later Counsellor Marwan Alex Ayyash from the embassy in Bishkek visited the IMU Hostel. Videos shared on ‘X’ show the counsellor seated with female and male students as they discuss the situation.

The Foreign Office summoned Charge d’affaires of Kyrgyz Embassy Melis Moldaliev for a demarche. He was conveyed deep concerns of the Government of Pakistan about the reports of the incidents against Pakistani students studying in the Kyrgyz Republic. It was impressed on the Kyrgyz Charge d’affaires the Kyrgyz government should take all possible measures to ensure safety and security of Pakistani students and citizens residing in the Kyrgyz Republic, the FO said.

He was also told Pakistan takes the matter of safety and security of its nationals around the world very seriously and will take all necessary measures to ensure their well-being, the FO said.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif contacted Pakistan’s ambassador and directed him to provide all kinds of support and assistance to Pakistani students. “Keep in touch with parents of students and keep providing them with information,” the premier told Ambassador Zaigham.

The prime minister also instructed the embassy to provide all kinds of medical facilities to injured students, while also directing arrangements to be made for the immediate return of injured students.

The government would bear the travel expenses of injured students, he said, adding he was personally monitoring the situation in Kyrgyzstan.

Earlier in the day, the Foreign Office activated its Crisis Management Unit. Pakistani nationals in the Kyrgyz Republic and their families may contact the unit at the following numbers: 0519203108/0519203094 Email CMU cmu1@mofa.gov.pk

Zaigham in his last video message on ‘X’ said that on May 17 night some extremist elements attacked six hostels. “We appeal to the students to stay indoors and remain in touch with us. We have received over 500 calls so far and have also managed to connect ten of our students with their parents,” he said.

According to Pakistan’s Embassy in Bishkek, foreign students living in the Kyrgyz capital, including those from Pakistan, were attacked by locals in the aftermath of their brawl with Egyptian nationals on May 13. It is not clear what caused the initial altercation.

There have been a number of incidents of mob violence against foreign students in Bishkek since Friday evening. According to the Kyrgyz press, the matter boiled over Friday due to sharing online of videos of a fight between Kyrgyz students and medical students from Egypt on May 13.

“So far, a few hostels of medical universities in Bishkek and private residences of international students, including Pakistanis, have been attacked. The hostels are inhabited by students from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh,” the embassy said.

Later, Saturday night, a group of Pakistani students arrived at Lahore Airport on a flight from Bishkek. The foreign airline’s flight landed at 11pm, bringing 180 passengers back to Pakistan. Federal Interior Minister Mohsin Naqvi welcomed the students.

Sources indicated that another flight from Kyrgyzstan would arrive on Sunday (today), continuing the repatriation of Pakistani students.

For the next week, daily flights from Bishkek would ensure the return of the students to Pakistan.