Kyrgyzstan’s Migration Tragedy


The Kyrgyz Republic is frequently confronted with the problem of  shrinking human capital, better known as the brain drain. Every year 2,000 young Kyrgyz professionals leave the country, according to the Ministry of Migration, Labour, and Employment, with the top destinations being the US, Europe, Canada, and Russia.

This represents more than 5% of university graduates, from an annual total of 36,800, and the Ministry states that this number is increasing every year as those with a knowledge of foreign languages look for a better life abroad. Recognising the scale of the issue – and the contribution these workers’ remittances make to the economy – the Ministry has a department which supports migrants by providing them with information and connections with the Kyrgyz diaspora around the world.

There are also opportunities for students to study outside the country, with the American University of Central Asia; the US Embassy; Kyrgyz National University and others offering several such international programmes- on the condition of students returning home afterwards. It seems this isn’t always the case, though. From social network research, students choose to go abroad to gain international contacts, the chance of funding, and a diploma, not necessarily with the intention of returning to Kyrgyzstan at the end of it. However, 87% of students are denied a US visa when applying for the Work and Travel programme, according to travel agency Kyrgyz Concept.

“I was in no doubt whether to stay or leave, despite the fact that I had been offered a good job in a bank.”

Vera Lihosherstova, a graduate student, said: “I decided to leave because I thought it was not safe to remain in Kyrgyzstan. To my eyes, there was a state of revolution, and all my friends and business contacts decided to leave the country. I was in no doubt whether to stay or leave, despite the fact that I had been offered a good job in a bank. I went to Moscow and then went to study in London, and stayed there for personal reasons. To use any chance to get a free Western education and take part in international projects is always useful, even if you decide to stay in the country. Living in another country has given me independence and the chance to build leadership capacity.”

Altynai Djumasheva, coordinator of the International Debate Education Association, said: “Of course, many say it’s all about low wages and lack of work. I do not believe it. The major cause of migration is the lack of security. You can be beaten up in a café robbery, or with a police stick, take your pick. I would want to go where there is no ‘outrage’ – if myrki [economic migrants from rural areas] on the streets continue to insult me oe officials and bandits rob my business, then goodbye, I’ll leave.”

So, lack of security in Kyrgyzstan is a problem, which exacerbates the intellectual exodus. Migrants choose developed countries where they can continue studying, work, and then spend the rest of their lives.

“If everybody decides to leave the Kyrgyz Republic, who will stay to help develop the country?”

Not everyone feels this way: Esen Rysbekov, an experienced traveller, said that there is no need to go abroad because of opportunities in Kyrgyzstan, as well as a sense of patriotism. He said: “I do not why I have chosen Kyrgyzstan. I have visited a lot of countries, but I was always drawn back home. If everybody decides to leave the Kyrgyz Republic, who will stay to help develop the country? I want to change something here and to contribute to the development of my country.”

The loss of employees with specialised skills, including in research and development, is the real tragedy of the country, affecting the economy and its international competitiveness. Another issue is internal migration: people coming from the countryside to Bishkek in search of jobs and higher wages. If this doesn’t work, some turn to robbery and burglary, according to the Department of the Interior.

In a bid to address the migration issue, Jogorku Kenesh, the Kyrgyz Parliament, is set to propose a new law prohibiting young people from leaving the country until the age of 21, and in compensation helping to create more jobs and improve working conditions.

Jakyp Alymkanov, Professor of International Relations, said: “We need to think about financial aid for technical training. Schools and teachers need to produce skilled workers who are able to cope with the latest technology. It is necessary to go back to the establishment of a working elite. The government should motivate and train workers and young professionals to stay here, in Kyrgyzstan. We should pay attention to raising the general level of training of engineers and technicians. Because of the brain drain, a level of education in our country is irretrievably lost. When these issues are discussed and resolved, Kyrgyzstan will have a future.”

a quarter of the Kyrgyz population aged 18 to 40 years is considering going abroad

According to official data, the unemployment rate among young people in Kyrgyzstan under 25 is 20 per cent, while 40 per cent of college graduates cannot find work. At the same time, a quarter of the Kyrgyz population aged 18 to 40 years is considering going abroad, joining 1.2 million Kyrgyz – or 35% percent of the population – already there.

However, the ex-President of the Kyrgyz Republic  Roza Otunbaeva has set up a network of successful Kyrgyz professionals who live and work abroad. A related programme is the Mekendeshter conference, where Kyrgyz migrants from different parts of the world communicate and share ideas with each other. The organisational committee states: “It’s time to get ready. Share your success and expertise for the development of Kyrgyzstan. We have everything that can make us a successful country.”

By Begimai Sataeva

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