Vengeful Migration Service Won’t Let Its Citizens Leave Turkmenistan

Turkmen citizens have not been allowed to board evacuation flights from the country in the last few days. This follows an incident at Turkmenabat airport on August 25, when several passengers with dual Turkmen-Russian citizenship theatrically threw away their Turkmen passports once they had passed through all the checks and were ready to board an S7 evacuation flight to Moscow.

An incident at Turkmenabat airport, from archives learned about the incident from two sources: a worker at Turkmenabat airport and a passenger on the flight. The second source did not witness the event personally, but said that the atmosphere had been “emotional” throughout the check-in process. 

The Turkmen-Russian citizens’ actions were a demonstration of their attitude towards the country’s leadership and their desire never to return to Turkmenistan. One source said that the migration service and National Security Ministry officials overseeing the check-in and passport process were furious, but could not remove the passengers from the flight or take any other action, as there were too many Russian diplomats and other foreigners at the airport.

Nevertheless, the incident was not ignored. According to a source, the Turkmen migration service has in response banned all its citizens from flying on charter flights, regardless of their status or circumstances. On August 27, three Turkmen citizens, wives of French employees of the Bouygues construction company, were not allowed to board the company’s latest Turkmenabat-Istanbul flight. Two women were planning to fly to join their husbands and children who had left on previous flights, while the third was flying with her husband, a French citizen. After a lengthy and futile argument with the migration service, the husband refused to fly without his wife. The plane took off without them and had around 45 passengers on board.

On the morning of August 29 there was a flight to Almaty organized by Kazakhstan’s embassy in Turkmenistan and carried out by SCAT Airlines. The plane was expected to carry approximately 20 citizens of Kazakhstan and 10 foreign citizens, including the ambassador of Italy. His term finished at the beginning of August. The Kazakh consulate in Ashgabat refused to comment on this report by telephone, asking to send written questions instead.

The next flight to Moscow is planned for August 30.

There are a great many people who want to leave Turkmenistan. According to a source in Ashgabat, the migration service head office is besieged by hundreds of people every day, mainly women and children whose husbands and fathers are citizens of other countries. The flight destinations of choice are Istanbul, Dubai, and Moscow. The source said that while those wishing to fly on the first charter flights were pretty much allowed to leave, though every case received individual consideration, recently no one has been allowed to go at all.

“Families are breaking down, lives are being destroyed. Children don’t see their fathers for more than six months; some people need to leave urgently for treatment, others to continue their studies, but the migration service is intransigent,” the source said.

He said that people are ready to pay any price for a ticket, as long as they can get out of Turkmenistan. It’s incomprehensible that planes leave Turkmenistan half-empty. A plane flying to Istanbul on August 18, chartered by Calik Holding, took just 17 passengers. Four women, all married to foreign citizens, and their six children were not allowed to board.

Since the end of January international flights have been using Turkmenabat airport in eastern Turkmenistan, rather than Ashgabat airport, as part of the measures to stop the spread of COVID-19. Scheduled flights have all been suspended and only occasional charter flights now serve Turkmenistan.