Turkmen Struggle to Access their Money as Economic Crisis Bites
Large numbers of Turkmen students in Belarus are caught up in people smuggling. Dozens of young men and women from Turkmenistan illegally escort citizens of Middle Eastern countries to Poland for payment. Belarusian border guards catch the students, fine them, and deport them to Turkmenistan, while some are given prison terms. The situation is so serious that the deputy education minister of Belarus has sent a letter to higher education institutions requiring them to monitor students from Turkmenistan. Turkmen.news has a copy of the letter.
Belarusian higher education institutions received the document, signed by Deputy Minister Alexander Bakhanovich, in September. It refers to numerous instances of the arrest of students and graduates from Turkmenistan in the border zone, including during lesson times. Bakhanovich demands that the university leaders step up preventive work with foreign students and not allow students to miss lessons.
According to a turkmen.news source in the leadership of one of the Belarusian universities, Turkmen students are involved with the international mafia. Citizens of Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Egypt, Syria, Afghanistan, and other countries illegally travel from Belarus to Poland and then on to Western Europe. Turkmen students are their guides across the border.
They take groups of foreigners by car to the border with Poland. This European Union country has recently built a wall to reinforce its border, but the smugglers dig tunnels underneath it. The Turkmen students take the illegal migrants to the Polish side and put them in the cars of their accomplices. Then they photograph the people as proof that they have completed their work, and return to Minsk or Brest where they receive 3,000-4,000 dollars. The man who pays them is an ethnic Kurd.
“Turkmen students are not involved in this out of desperation,” the source says. “There is plenty of work in Belarus. They could get jobs in cafes or as taxi drivers. But they are attracted by the chance to earn a lot of money quickly. Some students gamble and have large debts.”
In his letter Bakhanovich gives examples of arrests and criminal cases. In March 2023 Novruz Rejepov, a Turkmen citizen and fourth-year student at the International State Ecological Institute, was arrested when illegally taking eight Indian citizens across the border. In July he was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment. In May, another two students from the same institute, Kerim Alamov and Sapageldy Allajanov, were caught organizing the illegal migration of 10 citizens of Egypt. In August they were sentenced to four and a half years’ detention.
In April border guards arrested Azat Annaberdiyev, a student at the Belarusian State University of Transport. His involvement in helping migrants cross the border was not proven, but he was sentenced to three months’ detention for using a fake driving license.
The deputy education minister’s letter also lists Turkmen citizens who were fined and deported following administrative proceedings after arrest at the border:
“In view of the complexity and gravity of the problem related to the presence of citizens of Turkmenistan in the Republic of Belarus,” the deputy education minister asks the leadership of higher education institutions to write a report on the measures taken and interventions made in each of the aforementioned cases.
Under the legislation of the Republic of Belarus, the country’s citizens are allowed to enter the border zone if they have photographic ID, while foreigners can do so only with a passport and pass issued by the border guards. And entry to the border zone (the area contiguous with the border) is allowed only during daylight hours and after giving the border guards at least one hour’s notice. When giving notice, the applicant has to explain exactly what they plan to do in the area. Most of the students listed above were arrested for breaking these rules. Even if they weren’t caught leading a group of illegal migrants, they had still broken the administrative code.
The majority of Turkmen students are working in Belarus and other countries more or less legally (disregarding the fact that they don’t have work visas). They have to work, as the Turkmen authorities strictly limit the amount of money their parents can convert into hard currency and send to their children abroad. Often the young people have to take hard, dirty jobs, and miss lessons as a result.
Consequently some young people want a dramatic change in their circumstances. Moreover they have stopped feeling the total control they are used to in their home country. “What gets into you when you come here? Why do you change 180 degrees?” asked the deputy head of the law faculty at Belarus State Economics University, Yevgeniy Astapov, at a meeting with Turkmen students in 2019.
Turkmen diplomats regularly hold meetings with students abroad, insisting that they obey all the laws and regulations. This usually has no impact, though. Many are not afraid, even of warnings that they will be punished severely back home. Turkmenistan’s authorities must have questions for ambassador Nazarguly Shagulyev and the National Security Ministry resident agents in Belarus about the many cases of people smuggling by Turkmen students.
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