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Return of Kyrgyz Nationals from Syria and Iraq: A Problem We Cannot Ignore

Experts say about the need to develop multilateral approach to repatriation of the Kyrgyzstanis from Iraq and Syria. According to Kylym Shamy human rights centre, four Kyrgyzstani women and 11 minor children are incarcerated in a Baghdad prison. According to the head of the organisation, Aziza Abdirasulova, these are the people they know about. Moreover, 46 families whose relatives have departed to war zones in the Middle East have applied to human rights defenders. Besides, 12 people with children whose relatives have not been identified so far are located in Syria.

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Photo: cabar.asia

According to the State National Security Committee, about 850 Kyrgyzstanis moved to the Middle East as of this April. Unofficially, their number is greater. The majority of women and children are now located in the camps of Syria and Iraq.

Arthur Medetbekov. Photo: cabar.asia

“Unfortunately, they live in terrible conditions. Many of them are sick, many are in crisis. What would be the consequences? A major epidemic will follow. Russia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan have evacuated their nationals, where possible, especially women and children. Kazakhstan has even evacuated about six men on a pilot basis. However, our government has failed to cope with this problem,” Artur  Medetbekov,  an expert in terrorism and regional security, said during the expert meeting at the representation office of the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) “Return of the Kyrgyzstanis from Syria and Iraq: Barriers and Challenges.”

If a few years ago the rhetoric of the authorities and the public was negative – they suggested stripping the leaving citizens of citizenship and punishing the “returnees” for terrorism – now everyone speaks about the need to return them, primarily, women and children.

“If we leave our citizens there, what will the consequences in the future? The answer is simple: the majority will be angry and join various terrorist organisations and keep in touch with their relatives no matter what. More sophisticated types of sleeper cells will emerge,” Medetbekov said.

However, there is no developed plan on implementation of this idea and no further actions have been taken. Moreover, there are no funds to rehabilitate the “returnees” and to integrate them into the society.

Gulnaz Isaeva. Photo: cabar.asia

According to the head of the analysis department of the State Commission for Religious Affairs, Gulnaz Isaeva, Kyrgyzstan has been developing the mechanisms of rehabilitation and discussing the approach for the last two years.

According to the UN Women research, the majority followed their husbands to Syria and Iraq and it was their informed choice.

“They have followed their husbands due to patriarchal, possibly religious, traditional norms. And we even know the cases when women’s relatives don’t stop her but say: you are married to this man and you have to follow him,” Isaeva said.

Photo: cabar.asia

Triple approach

Despite the shared opinion that Kyrgyzstanis need to be returned from military zones, there are still more questions than answers.

Aziza Abdurasulova. Photo: cabar.asia

According to human rights defender Aziza Abdurasulova, a complex approach should be applied to the return of Kyrgyzstanis from Syria and Iraq and their subsequent rehabilitation. First of all, a political decision on repatriation should be made at the highest level. She noted that the document should prescribe the further life of these people, the approach of the state, security measures, psychological and medical assistance to be provided, how children would be taught, etc.

Moreover, individual approach should be applied to every “returnee” to find out the reasons why they leave for military zones.

“Law-enforcement bodies should do a thorough check of everyone, and everyone should be held legally liable,” Abdirasulova said.

She noted that human rights activists should join this process to make sure no citizen of Kyrgyzstan has been left in the Middle East and all returnees have been provided with all the necessary things:

Two years ago at Ala Buka, a family returned but they couldn’t live there because other people wanted them to leave. And the state failed to ensure the security of that family. How well is the state prepared today to ensure the security of such people?

A model for others

Ex-head of GKNB of Kyrgyzstan Artur Medetbekov said the authorities cannot control the flow of citizens to the Middle East countries. One of the reasons is because many leave to earn a living to Russia and other countries and then move to Iraq and Syria.

According to the expert, if the government controls the process of peaceful return of the Kyrgyzstanis back to their home land, it will help minimise the flow of the citizens from the country.

These ‘returnees’ can speak in the media, share their opinion, which will affect the situation. A war on terror should continue not only by law-enforcement bodies, but from within. The people that have been there can tell about it.