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International Children’s Day: Plight Of One Small Migrant From Kyrgyzstan

Saiara and Anetta Riglova In the last five years, more than 50,000 people mostly from Ukraine and points farther east have sought legal status in the Czech Republic as refugees. Under international law, refugees are people who flee their homeland because they have reason to fear being killed, tortured or otherwise mistreated. On the occasion of International Children’s Day today, RFE/RL recounts the story of one such child: 6-year-old Saiara.

Prague, 1 June 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Saiara lives in a refugee camp, two hours drive from Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic. She attends a Czech school nearby. The adults who work with her consider her linguistically talented. In less than a year, she already speaks Czech fluently. But at a cost: She stumbles now when she uses her native Kyrgyz.

Most Kyrgyz who emigrate are economic migrants. They fall into a kind of legal no-man’s land. That is, they have left the protection of their own countries. But, unable to claim credibly any threats to their lives or human rights, they do not have any of the rights given refugees under international law. They’re not even legally in the Czech Republic.

Some, like Saiara’s parents, come as tourists to get in, and then claim refugee status. They have economic reasons also, but they stand some chance of being allowed to stay.

Saiara’s mother -- we’ll call her Gulnara -- believed a woman whom she called a “mediator," who said that the family would be welcomed in the Czech Republic and the adults paid high wages.

”A mediator told us that as soon as we go to Czech Republic, we will get jobs and after a year will return home with a fortune," Gulnara said. "But she sent us here and disappeared. She told us someone will meet us in Prague, but there was nobody. We were scared and came here, into this camp.”

Gulnara continued her story. It is sadly familiar to a quite a few people from economically distressed countries of East Asia, Ukraine, and the Caucasus. Professional traffickers in human beings promise them transportation to rich countries, continued assistance in their new homes and opportunities to earn small fortunes.
When Saiara learned that her voice might be heard on radio back in Kyrgyzstan, she asked to send a message to her friends and family: "I miss you all, and also miss my grandmother, Aibubu."

“This mediator woman took from us $3,500 U.S., promising to bring us here," she said. "One time before this, we paid [another company] $5,000. They promised to take us to Sweden. But that did not work and we were able to get back only $1,500. We were told that going to Czech Republic is cheaper and came here. But we also were cheated this time.”

Gulnara and her husband -- we will call him Kadyr -- sold their family home to raise money for what they hoped would be escape from crushing poverty, as well from persecution.

Anetta Riglova, a worker with the Organization for Aid to Refugees based in Prague, has known Saiara's family since they arrived in the Czech Republic about eight months ago. She said Saiara is a gifted child.

“When I met her here for the first time, she spoke very few words in Czech," Riglova said. "We communicated nonverbally. From the very beginning she was very talented, because in two months I talked to her in the Czech language. That was amazing. We found that she has other special talents. She is very good at making pictures. She dances really nicely. She can perform. I would say in the future she can be a kind of a pop star, or an actress. She is good in acting.”

Riglova said she thinks that migrant children face difficulties but, in general, seem to find it easier for to cope with refugee life than do adults. But, later in life, Riglova said, they are likely later to grow to realize that they have been deprived of their native culture and will feel the loss.

Saiara seems a carefree, lively, and normal child. She wears her dark brown hair long and her complexion is somewhat darker than that of most of the other children of the camp’s 50 or so residents. She has made many friends there. She appeared to enjoy her new home in a former holiday house surrounded by lush green hills and forests.

Over time, one can see that Saiara longs for home. When she learned that her voice might be heard on radio back in Kyrgyzstan, she asked to send a message to her friends and family: " I miss you all, and also miss my grandmother, Aibubu. When I speak over phone with her I tell her: You my grandma. I love you; you are so beautiful. I love you. I miss you. I want to come to you. Let my mother be here and make money. I want to stay there and be with you.”

Kadyr, an ethnic Uyghur, may qualify for refugee status himself and his family. He has applied to the Czech Republic to be accepted as a refugee. That’s because the Kyrgyz government supports China in its suppression of Uyghurs in western China.

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