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Pakistani students returning from Bishkek recall the violence and the fear

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cores of Pakistani students have fled Kyrgyzstan over the past week following violent attacks reportedly in the aftermath of a brawl between some international students and local students in the capital city of Bishkek.

Nearly 14,000 Pakistani students study in Kyrgyzstan, mostly pursuing medical education. A large number of these students, over 11,000, study in Bishkek alone. On May 18, a mob of locals attacked international students, mainly Pakistanis and Indians. Social media footage showed disturbing visuals of brutal beating of both male and female students and of hostile mobs entering hostels housing foreign students, dragging them out and beating them up. In the end the Kyrgyz government called out law enforcement units to protect the students and control the situation. According to media reports, several foreign students were injured in the attacks.

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“We have been in a very difficult situation. The police are helpless against the mob. We have been appealing to the Pakistani mission and government to rescue us at the earliest… their response has not been that quick,” Salman Bangash, a stranded student had said on social media.

“There was a fight between some local and Egyptian students. It later erupted into more widespread violence. After the clash with Egyptians, scores of locals gathered outside hostels of international students and started attacking them… We took shelter at another place. Many students hid themselves beneath their beds. Our appeals for rescue were answered late by the Pakistani mission,” another medical student Muhammad Waleed had said.

“Many students were rescued by their teachers and local students. Many others, including some students from Pakistan, Bangladesh and India were stranded for days.”

According to the Pakistani mission in Bishkek, “foreign students living in the Kyrgyz capital, including those from Pakistan, were attacked by locals in the aftermath of a brawl with some Egyptian nationals.”

Kyrgyz media called it a “spontaneous protest against foreigners” that lasted for several hours into the night. It was controlled after the police were engaged.

“We switched the lights off and closed the doors to our rooms to save our lives,” Ali Waqar, a student who recently returned said, adding, “People in Bishkek can apparently be very aggressive… After a clash with some Egyptian students, they started attacking all international students at different places.”

“A few Egyptian students had a clash with some locals. They beat up the locals brutally. When three more locals tried to rescue them, the Egyptian students beat them up as well. Some of them put a video of the brawl on social media. This aggravated the situation,” Omar Usman, a Pakistani student who was in Bishkek on medical education recalled.

“They were beating people brutally on the streets. Even taxi drivers did not spare us. Many students reached the airport with the help of some local friends,” Shahzeb, a medical student who returned from Bishkek says. 

The video provoked some of the locals, who started gathering outside hostels of Pakistani and Indian students. They surrounded the hostels. Usman says once the violence started, they also streamed it live on social media.

“They were beating people brutally on the streets. Even taxi drivers did not spare us. Many students reached the airport with the help of some local friends,” Shahzeb, a medical student who returned from Bishkek said.

“The police arrived a couple of hours later. By then the locals had entered the hostels through emergency exits. The police soon surrounded the hostels but the locals remained on the streets. There were messages on social media that they would beat up more foreign students,” he said.

“My son was also stranded there. I called the Pakistani mission in Bishkek and told them about the situation. They took my son’s contact information but never called me with an update,” the father of one of the students complained.

Interior Minister Mohsin Naqvi received the first flight to land in Lahore. Some of the visuals played on the national media showed students with bandages on their heads, arms and legs. Some had bruises on their faces.

Deputy prime minister Ishaq Dar visited Bishkek and met some of the injured Pakistani students. He also met a Pakistani textile worker who had been beaten up. The worker, identified as Shahzeb, expressed a desire to return to Pakistan and be treated in his home country. He was admitted in the National Hospital in Bishkek. On his request, Shahzeb returned to Pakistan along with Ishaq Dar, who was visiting on a special flight, a spokesperson of the foreign ministry said.

Thousands of students from Pakistan, India and Bangladesh go to Kyrgyzstan and other Central Asian states to pursue medical education.

By Thursday, some 4,000 students had returned to Pakistan, according to officials. On Wednesday, Dar had said some of the students in their final year of education had told him they wanted to stay back in Bishkek. As for the students who returned to Pakistan or want to return, the authorities have said that the decision to resume studies in Bishkek lies with the students. Many questions concerning the future of these students will need to be addressed over the coming days.

The writer, a staff member, can be reached at He tweets at @waqargillani

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