News / Asia

Refugees Returning Home in Kyrgyzstan Face Difficult Conditions

James Brooke

In Central Asia, most refugees and internally displaced people from last month's interethnic fighting in southern Kyrgyzstan have returned to what is left of their homes. But the root causes of the unrest remain unaddressed, and experts say violence could soon erupt again.

A swelling population is fighting over scarce farmland and irrigation water.  Migration to Russia for work, a key escape valve, has closed off.  And now there is June's legacy of 2,000 people dead and thousands of houses burned in riots.

That is the picture painted by experts studying Kyrgyzstan's Fergana Valley.  Kathleen Kuenast, an American anthropologist with the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, says that half of the region's population there is less than 30 years of age.

"It is truly the most fertile region, where anything and everything grows very well.  That is the good news.  The bad news is that it is the most populated part of Central Asia for the same reasons.  There is a lot of contestation over resources, primarily land," she said.

In recent years, unemployed young men journeyed more than 1,600 kilometers north to Russia, where work was plentiful in the oil boom economy.  But with the world economic crisis, Russia's economy shrank, construction froze and tens of thousands of Central Asia workers were sent home.

Thomas Wood, a Eurasia specialist at the University of South Carolina, has studied the impact of the economic downturn on Central Asia.  "In combination with this, as in the rest of Eurasia, Kyrgyzstan has been plunged into a major economic crisis that has been worsening in roughly the past 10 years.  The Kyrgyz migrant laborers for a long time were a very important component of the Russian economy as well as the south Kazakh economy.  With the global financial crisis, what you see is fewer job opportunities for them in Russia and Kazakhstan.  So you've got a lot of people from all ethnic groups who were working abroad, returning to the Fergana," he said.

Twenty years ago, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, Central Asia lost an outside arbiter to decide land and water use issues in an area that now includes four independent nations.  Since then, public services have eroded, pushing down levels of education and nutrition.

Kuenast says that during Soviet times, many people in the southern Kyrgyzstan ate better and received better schooling. "We have truly a huge number of youth that are disaffected, that have half of the education their parents did, very little economic viability or hope," she said.

Without jobs, young men cannot afford to get married, increasing levels of frustration.

The U.S. government is giving $42 million in emergency aid to Kyrgyzstan, much of it directed at creating summer public works jobs for young men in the riot torn areas of the south.

The interim government in Kyrgyzstan took power after riots in April in Bishkek, the nation's capital.  After three months, its control of the country is shaky.  In Southern Kyrgyzstan, ethnic Uzbeks say Krygyz government soldiers and vehicles participated in attacks on their communities.  Today, ethnic mistrust is high.  There are calls by Uzbek leaders for autonomy.  There are reports that both groups are arming.

Zamira Sydykova, a former Kyrgyz ambassador to the United States, told conference participants that she worries that talk of Uzbek autonomy is increasing. "Autonomy -- it's one of the requests could come from Uzbek diasporas, Uzbek cultural centers and leaders who will try to play the game, who will try to involve in some of the political affairs of the country," she said.

But Eric McGlinchey, a Central Asia specialist at George Mason University, told the conference that some form of local autonomy might be the only way to quell ethnic Uzbek and Kyrgyz tensions in southern Kyrgyzstan. "There already are de facto Uzbek autonomous regions in the south.  And it is not simply entire regional territories, but there are sections within cities that are mixed cities that are in essence autonomous.  So the immediate question is:  Do we give these de facto autonomous regions legitimacy or the does the government continue to fight to wrest control back from these regions?  A productive outcome would be to recognize this autonomy and try to create some kind of cooperative framework where there is local rule within the framework of the greater Kyrgyz state,'' he said.

Kyrgyzstan is the world's only nation to host an American and a Russian military base.  Russia has had a military presence in Kyrgystan since the 1876, when Czar Alexander II absorbed the area into his empire.  In 2001, the United States opened a military transit center, a staging area for NATO's northern supply route to Afghanistan.

Both bases are in the north of Kyrgyzstan.  A mountain chain separates them from the turbulent south.

You May Like

Video Iran Nuclear Deal Becomes US Campaign Issue

Voters in three crucial battleground states - Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania - overwhelmingly oppose nuclear deal with Iran More

With IS in Coalition Cross-Hairs, al-Qaida's Syria Affiliate Reemerges

Jabhat al-Nusra has rebounded, increasingly casting itself as a critical player in battle for Syria’s future More

Lessons Learned From Katrina, 10 Years Later

FEMA chief Craig Fugate says key changes include better preparation, improved coordination among state, federal assistance agencies More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs