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Tajik Students Return From Iranian Madrasahs

The Tajik authorities worry that their students will become radicalized abroad
DUSHANBE -- Some 137 Tajik students who had been studying in Iranian madrasahs arrived in Dushanbe on November 22 after official concerns about their radicalization abroad.

Najmiddin Salimov -- an official from the State Committee on Religious Affairs -- told RFE/RL's Tajik Service that a delegation of the committee had traveled to Iran and met with students in an effort to convince them it was better for them to return home.

He said the Iranian air-company Osmon agreed to fly students back at a lower price. Upon arrival, students went through long checks by officials at Dushanbe's international airport.

Salimov noted that students at "illegal" foreign Islamic schools "cause problems" inside Tajikistan. He said that is why the Tajik government is interested in bringing them home.

Salimov added that children aged 10-12 years easily fall under the influence of religious extremists.

Some parents of the returning students told RFE/RL that their children mostly studied in Islamic schools in Iran's Sistan and Zahedan provinces, where Sunni muslims live.

The father of a 17-year-old student who did not want to be named told RFE/RL that his son's studies were financed by donated funds to the Islamic school he was attending.

The return of the Tajik students from Muslim countries began in August-September after Tajik President Emomali Rahmon said students at illegal Islamic schools too often "fall under the influence of extremists and turn into enemies."

Rahmon advised parents to bring their children back to Tajikistan.

Since then, an estimated 400 Tajik students have returned from madrasahs in Egypt and more than 200 from Pakistan.