Explainer: Over 500 Pakistani students return from Kyrgyzstan after mob violence against foreigners – What led to the attacks?

More than 500 Pakistani students have returned from Kyrgyzstan via special flights after last week’s violent clashes between Kyrgyz and international students.

The unrest began after videos of a brawl between Kyrgyz and Egyptian students went viral on social media resulting in frenzied mobs targeting hostels of medical universities and private lodgings of foreign students, including Pakistanis, in Bishkek.

About 10,000 Pakistani students are enrolled in educational institutions across Kyrgyzstan, with nearly 6,000 based in Bishkek, according to official statistics.

First flight: The first group of approximately 130 Pakistani students from Kyrgyzstan arrived in Lahore late Saturday night where Interior Minister Mohsin Naqvi was present to receive them. On Sunday, a flight with 140 students landed in Islamabad, welcomed by Federal Minister of Petroleum Musadik Malik. Later that night, another flight with 175 students arrived in Lahore from Bishkek.

Another flight bringing back Pakistani students from Kyrgyzstan’s capital of Bishkek arrived at Islamabad International Airport on Monday after a mob attack left several int­er­national students, inc­luding Pakistanis, injured.

The government reportedly said it would bear the expenses, however, many Pakistani students in Bishkek claimed they paid for the tickets. It is unclear if the government is going to reimburse the students.

Islamabad Airport: Kashmir Affairs Minister Amir Muqam received the students who arrived at Islamabad International Airport from Kyrgyzstan’s capital of Bishkek. “Our first priority is the safety of Pakistani students. The protection of life and property of Pakistanis will be ensured in every case,” Muqam said, adding that more flights would be bringing Pakistani students home.

Lahore Airport: As many as 540 students have returned to Pakistan as of May 20, 2024, as the fourth flight KA 6571 flight, Kyrgyz local airline Aero Nomad flight, brought home another group of Pakistani students.

At Allama Iqbal International Airport Lahore, Information Minister Attaullah Tarar assured the students that all possible measures would be taken to facilitate the return of remaining Pakistani students from Bishkek. “The government is committed to ensuring the safety and education of Pakistani students, with plans to send them back once the situation stabilizes so they can complete their degrees,” he added.

Update on KP and GB students: Separately, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Minister for Higher Education Meena Khan Afridi said that students stuck in Kyrgyzstan would be brought back home through special flights. Meanwhile, Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) spokesperson Faizullah Faraq said a list has been provided to the Foreign Office (FO) for the safe return of 80 GB students stranded in Kyrgyzstan, pointing out that a large number of them were female.

No Pakistani died in Bishkek mob violence, confirms Dar

Foreign Minister Dar, addressing rumors about the death of Pakistani students in Bishkek mob violence, blamed social media and a political party for the misinformation.

“No Pakistani student died in Bishkek mob violence,” he said at a press conference on Sunday.

Dar confirmed that 16 foreign students, including “four or five” Pakistanis, got injured in the violence. He said that his Kyrgyz counterpart confirmed the situation was under control.

Pakistan has scheduled three special flights to bring back 540 Pakistani students from Kyrgyzstan. Dar said that the government would cover the expenses of arrangements.

Urging students to trust Kyrgyz authorities, Dar advised those wishing to leave Kyrgyzstan to register with the embassy. He reiterated assurances from the Kyrgyz foreign minister that there was no need to panic, as those involved were being arrested and penalized, attributing the incident to a “misunderstanding.”

Pakistan Foreign Office summons Kyrgyz diplomat

Pakistan’s ambassador to Kyrgyzstan Hasan Zaigham said that five Pakistani medical students had been injured in the mob attack. One student was admitted to a local hospital with a jaw injury, while the other four were released after receiving first aid.

Zaigham said “local extremist elements” had attacked six hostels of international students and their private residences last night in Bishkek.

Pakistan’s foreign ministry said it had summoned and handed an official protest note to Kyrgyzstan’s top diplomat in the country in response to violence against Pakistani students in Bishkek.

Foreign Office spokesperson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch had also reposted the envoy’s message and said the embassy was in contact with the Kyrgyz authorities as the safety of the students was of paramount importance for the ambassador and his team.

Meanwhile, Pakistan’s Minister for Federal Education Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui held a meeting with the Education Minister of Kyrgyzstan Dogdurkul Kendirbaeva, who said the safety of students has been ensured and the situation is under control. The meeting took place on May 20 in London, where they arrived to participate in the Education World Forum.

Why were Pakistani students attacked in Kyrgyzstan?

Over 500 Pakistani students have fled Kyrgyzstan after a mob attacked international student hostels in Bishkek, injuring several. The violence erupted on May 17 and lasted for hours, with more than 30 foreign students hurt as hundreds of Kyrgyz locals targeted the hostels, according to students who posted their accounts on social media.

The unrest began following a brawl between Kyrgyz locals and international students, reportedly Egyptian students, on May 13. Malik, a 24-year-old Pakistani medical student, recalled receiving a message from the hostel administration to stay indoors as the situation escalated. According to Kyrgyz media, a crowd of over 700 people gathered outside the VIP Hostel, which houses more than 800 international students, including Pakistanis, Indians, Egyptians, and Bangladeshis.

Bilal Ishaq, another Pakistani medical student, also received alerts on WhatsApp groups advising students to stay inside. Videos on social media showed people throwing stones at the hostel and breaking windows and doors. In response, the Indian and Pakistani embassies in Bishkek advised their students to remain indoors for safety.

Following the episode of violence, the embassies of India and Pakistan in Bishkek advised the students to stay indoors and stay in close contact with their country’s embassy.

In Pakistan, youngsters held a protest against the attacks in Bishkek outside the Embassy of Kyrgyzstan in Islamabad on May 18 to protest against the attack on Pakistani students in Bishkek. Similar protests were reported in Karachi, where the protesters demanded accountability and justice for the targeted Pakistani students.

The Kyrgyz government said those involved in the violence had been arrested and that it was in touch with the governments whose nationals were affected by the incident. Following the May 13 incident, Kyrgyz police detained four citizens of Egypt and placed them under house arrest.

Foreign students in Kyrgyzstan temporarily transferred to online classes

Kyrgyzstan’s Deputy Minister of Education and Science Rasul Abazbek Uulu said on Monday that foreign students in Kyrgyzstan have been temporarily shifted to online classes.

A directive has been issued to conduct online classes for a week, he said. Such measures aim to ensure that students remain in dormitories and other places of residence.

“Together with the rectors of universities, work is underway to ensure the safety of students, including those living in rented apartments, hostels and other places,” Rasul Abazbek said, noting that what happened did not show the country from its best side and everyone should learn from these events.

There are currently about 28,800 foreign students studying in Kyrgyzstan, mostly from India and Pakistan, with many studying at medical schools, according to Kyrgyz Minister Rasul Abazbek.

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