Attacks on Indian and Pakistani students in Kyrgyzstan expose risks involved amid clamour for foreign professional degrees

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Mob attack on Indian and other foreign students in Bishkek. (Photo: Twitter)

By Our Correspondent

NEW DELHI – The recent attacks on Indian and Pakistani students in Kyrgyzstan capital Bishkek and some other cities, after which a large number of youngsters have returned to their native places, have exposed the risks involved in staying in an alien land. The middle class families in the two countries send their children to the Kyrgyzstan and other Central Asian countries amid the clamour for the foreign professional degrees, mainly in medical and engineering streams.

The violence in Bishkek erupted following a brawl at a hostel between locals and foreign students, including Pakistanis and Egyptians. Videos of the brawl, which reportedly took place on May 13, went viral on social media, following which tensions heightened in the country. On May 16, international students were singled out and attacked, making the situation worse.

The local citizens perceived the brawl as a clear breach of the hospitality extended to the foreign students. The locals protested on May 17, accusing the Kyrgyz officials of showing lenient treatment towards the foreigners involved in the violence. Several demonstrators also blocked traffic and vandalised buildings during the violence.

According to the Kyrgyz authorities, three foreigners were held on suspicion of hooliganism. But the crowds began to attack foreign students, especially those from India and Pakistan. Locals attacked the students despite their cries for aid. At least 14 Pakistani students are said to have been injured in the attacks. The women students were harassed and many were hurt.

When a rumour spread about the death of four Pakistani students in the violence, the Pakistani Embassy in Bishkek advised its students to stay indoors until the situation returned to normal and stated that it had not received any information of deaths. “A few hostels of Medical Universities in Bishkek and private residences of international students, including Pakistanis, have been attacked. There have been reports of light injuries to a number of students from Pakistan,” the Pakistan Embassy said.

“Despite social media posts about the alleged death and rape of Pakistani students, so far, we have not received any confirmed reports,” the Pakistan Embassy stated. Indian External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar claimed that things were calm in Bishkek and suggested that students maintain continuous communication with the Indian Embassy. “The situation is presently calm, but students are advised to stay indoors for the moment,” Jaishankar tweeted.

At present, about 17,000 Indian students are in the Kyrgyz Republic and most of them are in Bishkek.

The Indian Embassy said in its latest statement that no untoward incident had been reported in Bishkek during the past few days. “There are no restrictions on the movement of transport or people. However, as a measure of precaution, the classes are being conducted in an online mode,” the Indian Embassy said.

Indian Ambassador Arun Kumar Chatterjee visited the Jalal Abad State University on May 18 and the International Higher School of Medicine in Bishkek on May 22 and interacted with the Indian students there. “Embassy officials visited the International Medical University and the Eurasian Medical University on May 21 and to the Royal Metropolitan University and to the Avicenna University to continue this interaction with the students and to address their concerns,” the Embassy said.

It further said that air connectivity between Bishkek and Delhi remains operational and flights to India can also be availed through Almaty, Dubai, Istanbul, Sharjah and Tashkent. The local transport to Manas International Airport in Bishkek remains accessible to Indian students, it said.

“As the academic year is coming to a close, prior to travelling back to India, including for summer vacations, all Indian students must contact their respective universities about the formalities required for the completion of their exams. In case any assistance is needed, the students are requested to contact the Embassy of India in Bishkek,” the Indian Embassy said.

Hours after the advisories issued by India and Pakistan to their students, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kyrgyz Republic released a statement saying that “destructive forces are deliberately disseminating untrue and false information about the situation in the Kyrgyz Republic in foreign mass media and social networks, especially in the territory of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.”

According to Kyrgyz media reports, a crowd of more than 700 people gathered outside the city’s VIP Hostel, which houses more than 800 international students, including Pakistanis, Indians, Egyptians and Bangladeshis. Videos on social media showed a huge number of people walking towards the hostel, hurling stones at the windows. Another video shows a door being broken, and glass shattered in the corridor of the hostel.

More videos on social media showed the incidents of violence in Bishkek and other towns. One of the videos showed a student saying that he and his three roommates hid in their room on the fourth floor of the five-storey building. They could hear loud noises from other floors. The attack lasted for almost six to eight hours and when the students eventually came out of the room, it was obvious that the mob was there to just cause chaos and spread terror.

The Kyrgyz government said those involved in the violence had been arrested and it was in touch with different foreign governments whose nationals were affected by the incident. “There are no seriously injured people among participants of the incident. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kyrgyz Republic did not receive any messages regarding injured foreign citizens. At the same time, the Ministry urges representatives of the media and foreign diplomatic missions not to disseminate false and unverified information,” the Kyrgyz government said in a statement on May 18.

The attraction among Indian and Pakistani students, for which they go to Kyrgyzstan, is a combination of reasonably high standards at Soviet-era medical colleges along with tuition fees which are lower than most educational destinations in the West and even in their home countries. Kyrgyzstan’s medical colleges are also popular among students from several Arab and African nations.

Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif sent his deputy and Foreign Minister Ishaq Dar and Federal Minister Amir Muqam to Bishkek to ensure assistance and support to the Pakistani students stranded amid the unrest. Along with this, special flight carrying a large number of Pakistani students from Bishkek have been landing in different cities of Pakistan, including Lahore, Peshawar and Karachi.

The number of Indian students coming back from Bishkek to their native places is lesser in comparison with the Pakistani students returning to their country. Kyrgyzstan’s Deputy Minister for Education and Science Rasul Abazbek uulu announced at a press conference that foreign students had been allowed to attend classes online for a week. The latest announcement helped students make up their minds about the decision to return home.

In India, the Chief Secretaries of several states have been coordinating with the Central Government to ensure the safety of students studying in Kyrgyzstan. Following increasing instances of attacks on Indian students, parents of around 100 students from Surat district and city made a representation for the safety of their children. The Gujarat Chief Secretary has received details of arrangements made to bring students back safely after contacting the Ministry of External Affairs and the Embassy in Kyrgyzstan.

Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Vishnu Deo Sai has spoken to some students from the state studying in Kyrgyzstan and assured them of all possible assistance and safe return to India. He enquired about their well-being and asked them to take care of themselves. Sai told the students that the Indian government is in constant touch with Kyrgyzstan authorities and the students need not worry about their safety.

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