Ethnic Kazakhs in Afghanistan struggle to resettle in their increasingly unstable homeland

Ethnic Kazakhs in Afghanistan struggle to resettle in their increasingly unstable homeland

Amid attempts to allow ethnic Kazakhs to leave Afghanistan, Kazakhstan claims there are approximately 200 members of the community remaining, although others put the number far higher.

This week’s events could have made Kazakhstan a less attractive destination for those hoping to flee Afghanistan. 

The Taliban authorities have expressed concern over violence in Kazakhstan and called for restraint. 

Foreign Ministry spokesman Abdul Qahar Balkhi tweeted that the Afghan government is closely monitoring the situation in Kazakstan, a major trade partner.

But conditions in Afghanistan are difficult with the United Nations reporting that nearly 23 million people, approximately 55 per cent of the population, are facing extreme hunger, with almost 9 million at risk of famine during the harsh winter in the mountainous country. 

Kazakhs arrived in northern Afghanistan in the 1920s and 1930s, many speak Dari or Uzbek and live beside ethnic Uzbeks. Most are involved with livestock farming.

The Kazakh government says it has allocated humanitarian aid to Afghanistan, including 5,000 tonnes of flour.

Kazakhstan is a major supplier of flour and grain to Afghanistan and the Afghan market has been consuming more than half of all exports of Kazakh flour and more than 10 per cent of Kazakhstan’s grain exports.

The Kazakh authorities say around 13,000 ethnic Kazakhs have settled in Kazakhstan since the early 1990s.

They are offered citizenship and approximately a million ethnic Kazakhs from Uzbekistan, China and elsewhere have resettled since the 1990s.

Kazakhstan subsidises housing and offers other benefits on the condition they settle in the sparsely populated north of Kazakhstan where there is a labour shortage. 

Northern Kazakhstan endures harsh winters and is often an unpopular choice but immigrants settling elsewhere do not receive the same state support.

After the Taliban seized Afghanistan in mid-August, Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev ordered the evacuation of ethnic Kazakhs from Kabul.

On September 9, a special flight from Kabul to Almaty flew out with 35 refugees. 

But Kazakhstan soon suspended evacuations amid an apparent flood of applications and by late August had established a special commission at its Kabul embassy to investigate cases.

Many Afghan applicants have difficulty proving their Kazakh ethnicity, according to the Kazakh authorities. 

Foreign Ministry spokesman Aibek Smadiyarov said applicants failed to provide any documents or have evidence of when their families moved to Afghanistan.

“Some of them don’t even have basic knowledge of the Kazakh language,” Smadiyarov told the media in August.



Life is challenging in rural Afghanistan. Picture credit: Flickr 

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