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Kyrgyz border migration worries officials
Living conditions along border need improvement, authorities say
By Alisher Karimov
DZHALAL-ABAD – An exodus from border villages is raising security concerns among Kyrgyz officials.
During the past 10 years, the border-area population has fallen by more than 25% as residents seek jobs and better conditions elsewhere in Kyrgyzstan and abroad.
That statistic alarms authorities, who would like a large and prosperous population to help troops keep an eye on the border and to occupy a vacuum that terrorists might otherwise fill. Officials are discussing ways to improve the quality of life there.
“Migration from the border areas can seriously affect their development, as well as border defence capabilities,” said Kurbanbai Iskenderov, head of the government’s Department of Border Delimitation and Development of Border Territories.
Such border depopulation also opens the door to possible terrorism, security analyst Yegor Khamatov said.
"If certain areas or villages are almost empty, we have no guarantee that they will not be taken over by terrorists from other countries,” Khamatov said. “Those villages have some infrastructure and poorly guarded territory.”
Not taking care of the problem “could create a dangerous precedent,” he warned, urging the government to take measures to help.
The government’s response comes in a border management strategy that proposes security and economic initiatives for the area through 2022. It calls for taking a dual approach to improve life in the border regions, focusing on economic and security issues.
Zakir Tilenov, commander of the Border Troops, pointed out economic stagnation in the region.
“There is virtually no industry in the region and the unemployment rate is high,” he said. “That is why some residents have sold their land and homes and moved to more-developed regions. ... This has led to negative consequences. Now we’re taking steps to prevent this from happening. Parliament is seeking new funding for a programme to strengthen border areas in order to attract settlers, help them farm their plots, and build schools and other infrastructure.”
Development of the border areas will create new jobs, thereby reducing migration, agreed Zakir Temirov, head of the Batken Oblast government’s Defence and Law and Order Department. That’s why the border management programme includes economic solutions.
One government proposal is to give special economic status to border villagers, an effort discussed in a draft bill on “The security of villages with special status and also on their economic and social development” that parliament is reviewing, Iskenderov said.
“We plan to give special status to 65 villages situated on the borders with Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, and China,” Iskenderov said. “Most of them (about 50) are located in Batken Oblast bordering Tajikistan’s Sughd Oblast. Residents of these villages will receive various benefits, and particular attention will be paid toward creating new public facilities and constructing subsidised housing.”
While economic improvements could help, Ata-Meken MP Raikan Tologonov said strengthening the military and improving border security are more important.
The development programme calls for plans “to build new border posts in areas with special status and to build border barriers,” Tilenov said. Ideas include upgrading border equipment, getting trained dogs and adding security personnel.
The border management strategy, which the government adopted in March, is designed to offset what he called a “real threat to state security and sustainability,” said Talantbek Uzakbayev, deputy chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Land and Agrarian Issues, Water Resources, the Environment and Regional Development.
“Now we are creating new laws, such as those regarding the purchase of land and houses by the government, so that it can sell them later to the public,” Uzakbayev said. “We are proposing to convert some irrigated land into land that will be suitable for building houses and barns, gardening, and accelerating the demarcation process. The government should regulate this process.”
Implementing the programme
Although the border management strategy has been accepted, the issue now is how to pay for it. More than 1 billion KGS (US $21.3m) would be required to carry out all of the proposals, the Finance Ministry estimates.
“The programme still needs fine tuning, which is under discussion,” said Damira Niyazaliyeva, chairwoman of the Parliamentary Committee on Social Policy.
Some of the initiatives, though, could be implemented at minimal cost. Indeed, about 6,000 border residents need a plot of land, according to the Batken Oblast government, a problem the government is working on.
“We have already received approval from the parliament to prepare land plots in border areas for the construction of private houses,” First Deputy Prime Minister Aaly Karashev said.
The goal is to make headway on some of the measures before the year is out.