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  • Seher Arora

Violence Towards Indian and Pakistani Students Culminates in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan


Following an outbreak of violence in Kyrgyzstan on May 13, 2024, between local Kyrgyz and Pakistani and Indian students studying in the country’s capital, Bishkek, the governments of both India and Pakistan have publicly advised students to “stay indoors amid mob violence.” Kyrgyzstan, a popular location amongst Indian, Pakistani, and Bangladeshi students seeking to study medicine, has seen a spike in the number of international students in the last decade. 


Tensions escalated after a video filmed on May 13 capturing fighting between locals and both Pakistani and Egyptian students went viral on local media platforms in Bishkek. According to NDTV World’s local media sources, the locals received the violence as a violation of their hospitality. 


Following this, on the evening of May 17, violent mobs began attacking medical university hostels that housed over 800 international students, primarily from India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. The violence lasted for more than six hours and left over 30 injured


Students recalled being informed by their hostel administration on May 17 to stay indoors. 


The administration said there appears to be a threat to international students and they must refrain from leaving the premises of their hostels,” Pakistani medical student Korish Malik told Al Jazeera in an interview. “But then we saw on TikTok that a large group of locals was gathering and marching towards our hostel.” 


According to both local Kyrgyz reports and accounts from students staying at the hostel, a mob exceeding 700 gathered around the hostel that night. Students staying in nearby apartments also recalled receiving an influx of alerts and worried messages from student community WhatsApp groups advising those in the area to stay indoors. 


Students at the hostel told Al Jazeera that despite the presence of local police forces guarding the gate of the building, the mob grew in number and eventually became too large for the forces to guard off. Students were told to lock their doors, switch the lights off, and place heavy objects at the entrance of their rooms. 


The mob managed to enter the hostel from an emergency exit that was left unguarded. The mob was reported to have shattered windows, thrown stones, and broken down doors. 


“The whole thing lasted for almost six to eight hours and when we eventually came out of the room, it was obvious that the mob was there to just cause chaos and spread terror,” Malik said.


Following the violence, the governments of both India and Pakistan shared their concern regarding the safety of their citizens on X. India urged Indian citizens to stay in contact with the country's embassy, while Pakistan set up emergency hotlines for those affected by the violence and said they would immediately fly back any citizens who wished to leave immediately. 


Although there were also reports of alleged deaths and rapes of Pakistani students, the Pakistani Consulate denied receiving any confirmed reports.


On Sunday, May 19, the Indian embassy in Kyrgyzstan stated that all Indian students were safe, as the situation in Bishkek slowly returned to normal. 


"The situation in Bishkek is normal. All Indian students are safe. They are requested to continue to follow the guidelines prescribed by authorities in the Kyrgyz Republic,” the Indian embassy wrote in a post on X. 


At a news conference on Monday, May 20, Kyrgyzstan’s Deputy Minister for Education and Science Rasul Abazbek-uulu announced that in light of the situation, foreign students were allowed to attend classes online for a week to ensure their safety. 


According to the accounts of multiple Pakistani students in Bishkek, the capital had regained normalcy since May 19, but many were unwilling to continue staying there. Moreover, Abazbek-uulu’s latest announcement giving international students the option to take classes online helped students finalize their decision to fly back home. 


Korish, a third-year student, told Al-Jazeera that he managed to step out of his hostel on Monday morning and could move around the city. But he also said he would travel back to Pakistan “to allay his parents’ concerns.” In a statement, Korish said his family was concerned about the violence; thus, with the semester nearing its end and the option to attend classes online, he decided to buy a ticket home.


The Pakistani embassy in Kyrgyzstan continues closely coordinating with local authorities to aid students, but according to Al Jazeera's sources, some students in Bishkek claimed abandonment by their government. Despite Foreign Minister Ishaq Dar's assurance of covering students' return costs, three students interviewed by Al Jazeera stated they had to pay for their tickets. It remains uncertain whether the government intends to reimburse them later. 


“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.


Meanwhile, the Kyrgyz government reported the arrests of those behind the violence and confirmed that they were in touch with different foreign governments whose nationals were affected by the incident.


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