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Resettlement Of Afghanistan's Ethnic Kazakhs To Kazakhstan Hampered By Taliban Takeover


Ethnic Kazakhs arrive at Almaty airport from Kabul in September. 

Abdul Kabir Wakil Khan traveled from Kazakhstan to the Afghan city of Mazar-e Sharif in July to help his family members -- all ethnic Kazakhs -- relocate to their ancestral homeland.

Instead, Wakil Khan became stranded in Afghanistan after the Taliban seized power in the war-torn country in August.

Wakil Khan's parents and several of his relatives were in the process of being cleared for resettlement by the Kazakh Embassy in Kabul, the Afghan capital.

They were among scores of Afghan nationals seeking to relocate through a special Kazakh government program that helps ethnic Kazakhs from abroad immigrate to the Central Asian country.

But the Taliban takeover put those relocation plans on hold. The Kazakh Embassy in Kabul has restricted its operations, passports applications have been disrupted, and most international flights have been suspended.

An ethnic Kazakh woman arrives in Kazakhstan on a flight from Kabul.
An ethnic Kazakh woman arrives in Kazakhstan on a flight from Kabul.

Unable to leave Afghanistan, Wakil Khan has been trying to secure visas for his family members to travel to Kazakhstan. The 58-year-old, himself born in Afghanistan, moved to Kazakhstan some 15 years ago.

"There is a group of people who gather in front of the embassy these days," Wakil Khan told RFE/RL. "Like me, many of them traveled from Kazakhstan to obtain visas for their relatives."

Kazakh authorities claim there are only around 200 ethnic Kazakhs remaining in Afghanistan. But ethnic Kazakhs in Afghanistan estimate the number is much higher.

Many members of the ethnic Kazakh community are believed to be the relatives of those who arrived in northern Afghanistan from Central Asia in the 1920s and 1930s.

Many of them speak Dari or Uzbek and live among ethnic Uzbek communities in northern Afghanistan. Most of them live in rural areas and raise livestock.

According to official figures, some 13,000 ethnic Kazakhs from Afghanistan have immigrated to Kazakhstan since the early 1990s.

Kazakhstan offers citizenship to ethnic Kazakhs who emigrate to their ancestral homeland from abroad.

About 1 million ethnic Kazakhs from Uzbekistan, China, and other neighboring countries have moved to the oil-rich country since the 1990s.

The government offers financial incentives, subsidized housing, and other benefits for them. But those state benefits come with a precondition. They must move to sparsely populated northern regions of Kazakhstan, where there is a shortage of workers.

Not everyone wants to move to the north, which is notorious for harsh winters. Those who stay elsewhere in Kazakhstan do not receive support from the government.

'Documentation Issues'

Kazakh authorities have said they are committed to helping ethnic Kazakhs in Afghanistan.

Shortly after the fall of Kabul to the Taliban on August 15, President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev ordered his government to organize the evacuation of ethnic Kazakh Afghan nationals from Kabul.

Ethnic Kazakh Afghans wait outside the Kazakh Embassy in Kabul on September 5.
Ethnic Kazakh Afghans wait outside the Kazakh Embassy in Kabul on September 5.

On September 9, Kazakhstan evacuated 35 ethnic Kazakhs on a special flight from Kabul to Almaty.

But the Kazakh Foreign Ministry said last week that the evacuation of ethnic Kazakhs from Afghanistan had been "suspended," citing the "political situation as well as documentation issues in Afghanistan."

When the Taliban seized power, dozens of Afghans claiming to be ethnic Kazakhs pleaded with the Kazakh Embassy for help to resettle in Kazakhstan.

The Kazakh Foreign Ministry said in late August that it had established a special commission at the embassy to investigate each case.

But Kazakh officials have said many Afghan applicants have difficulty proving their Kazakh roots.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Aibek Smadiyarov said many applicants were "unable to provide any documents" to prove their Kazakh ethnicity or document when their relatives first moved to Afghanistan.

"Some of them don't even have basic knowledge of the Kazakh language," Smadiyarov told reporters in late August.

Amanullah Nazari, an Afghan who resettled in Kazakhstan in 2019, said many ethnic Kazakhs in Afghanistan are illiterate and often live in remote areas. He said that many members of the community are probably not even aware of the resettlement program.

The lack of travel documents has also hampered the resettlement of ethnic Kazakhs from Afghanistan, from where hundreds of thousands of people have fled in recent months due to Taliban repression and a devastating humanitarian and economic crisis.

Kazakhstan evacuated 35 ethnic Kazakhs from Kabul in September.
Kazakhstan evacuated 35 ethnic Kazakhs from Kabul in September.

Passport offices across Afghanistan have frequently suspended their operations since August.

But even those who obtain passports and foreign visas find it difficult to leave Afghanistan. International flights have come to a near-complete halt since the Taliban takeover.

A family of Afghan Kazakhs living in the southern Kazakh city of Shymkent told RFE/RL that their relatives -- a total of 38 people -- were set to relocate from the Afghan province of Faryab to Kazakhstan in July.

After their resettlement documents were approved, they were making travel plans when the Taliban seized power.

"We sent them money [for their flights], but it won't be enough anymore," said Hangama Abdul Karim, a Kazakh citizen who has relatives in Afghanistan. "We can't afford to pay for their travel with connecting flights [through other countries]."

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    Farangis Najibullah

    Farangis Najibullah is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL who has reported on a wide range of topics from Central Asia, including the region’s ongoing struggle with the coronavirus pandemic and its economic impact. She has extensively covered efforts by Central Asian states to repatriate their citizens who joined Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.

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    RFE/RL's Kazakh Service

    RFE/RL's Kazakh Service offers informed and accurate reporting in the Kazakh and Russian languages about issues that matter in Kazakhstan, while providing a dynamic platform for audience engagement and the free exchange of news and ideas.

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