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Kyrgyzstan 2017 Crime & Safety Report

South Central Asia > Kyrgyzstan

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

U.S. Embassy Bishkek does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The ACS Unit cannot recommend a particular individual or location and assumes no responsibility for the quality of service provided.

THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED BISHKEK AS BEING A HIGH-THREAT LOCATION FOR CRIME DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.

Please review OSAC’s Kyrgyzstan-specific webpage for proprietary analytic reports, Consular Messages, and contact information.

Crime Threats

Although relatively uncommon, there have been reports of violent muggings and assaults of foreigners in downtown Bishkek at night. Other non-violent crimes occur regularly. In 2016, police investigated 77 cases related to crimes against foreigners; however, some cases do not get reported, such as sexual and physical assaults, thefts, and stalking (with the latter taking place on January 6, 2017).

On multiple occasions, foreigners have reported having their drinks drugged. In one such instance, after being drugged at a local nightclub, a U.S. citizen was forcibly raped by multiple assailants. Foreigners, including U.S. citizens, have been targeted, as they are perceived to have more money than locals. Avoid leaving drinks unattended, and never accept drinks from unknown persons, especially in nightclubs. Avoid inviting unknown persons into your residence or hotel room. For more information, please review OSAC’s Report “Shaken: The Don’ts of Alcohol Abroad.”

There is a high incidence of petty theft and pickpocketing in local open-air markets, bazaars, and other crowded places (markets, Internet cafes, on public transportation). There is particular need to pay close attention to one’s surroundings and belongings while in crowded public places, walking on crowded streets and through underground malls/crossovers, and if traveling on public transportation.

Criminals have impersonated police officers, using fraudulent credentials to extort money from foreign tourists and expatriates.

Organized crime and narco-trafficking are widespread in the south, particularly in Batken and Osh provinces.

Cybersecurity Issues

Incidents of credit card, Internet, and ATM fraud are rarely reported but do occur. In 2016, an international criminal group committed a series of cyberattacks on ATMs in more than 10 countries, including Kyrgyzstan. Using special malicious software, the criminals forced ATMs to spit out cash.

In the last couple of years, there have been significant incidents of cyberattacks on government sites. Servers were reported to have been infected with malware as a result. Local media outlets occasionally report attacks by foreign government hackers. Exercise caution with your electronic devices; try to keep them in your possession at all times, keep firewalls and anti-virus software active and updated, and utilize virtual private networks (VPN) to protect your devices from unauthorized access.

Other Areas of Concern

The U.S. Embassy advises Americans to exercise caution in urban areas due to the high rate of violent crime against foreigners.

Visitors should exercise caution near the southern borders. The U.S. Embassy restricts travel of Embassy employees to Batken Oblast because of concerns that terrorist groups are able to travel through the region from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. Rugged terrain and a lack of resources prevent authorities from adequately controlling the borders in this region. Kyrgyz law restricts movements by foreigners in some border areas that are seen as vital to national security or are otherwise sensitive. For example, mineral mines owned or operated by foreigners are required to submit names of foreign visitors to the State Committee for National Security (GKNB) if they visit their location. There have also been reports of detention/harassment by local law enforcement/security forces of U.S. citizens working as journalists and individuals who are hunting/trekking in certain areas, even if they are on guided tours, have permission, and possess the proper documentation.

Border crossings for foreigners who do not carry Central Asian passports are often difficult, and unexpected border closures should be factored into travel plans. Many borders crossings do not permit non-Central Asians to cross.

Transportation-Safety Situation

Road Safety and Road Conditions

Road conditions often make driving difficult and dangerous. Year-round driving is impacted by the lack of street lighting, local driving patterns, and poor conditions on rural roads, including regular livestock crossings. Many city roads are hazardous due to potholes, uncovered manholes, poor lighting, and pedestrians ignoring oncoming traffic. Exercise great care while walking, as vehicles often fail to yield to pedestrians. There is no roadside assistance infrastructure. Guardrails and barriers are often missing.

Roads in Bishkek are generally in poor condition. Asphalt quality varies widely, and roads outside of cities are often poorly illuminated. Poor road construction results in numerous and dangerously large potholes on major streets. To avoid even small potholes, drivers commonly make violent and unexpected lane changes without signaling or checking other lanes. Collisions as a result are common.

There are many right-hand drive vehicles (the steering wheel and pedals are on the right side of the car), even though they are driven on the right side of the road. This affords the drivers limited visibility on two-lane roads and is also a cause of many accidents.

Plowing and sanding of city streets is limited. Severe winter weather (October-April) makes driving in mountain passes treacherous and nearly impassable. Avalanches and mudslides in the winter and spring make driving in high mountain passes a challenge. Mountain roads are often narrow and treacherous and may close without notice due to snow, ice, or rockslides.

Aggressive driving is very common in Bishkek, and accidents may lead to violence. As in previous years, there were many hit-and-run accidents in 2016, resulting in multiple pedestrian deaths. In the first eight months of 2016, 567 people were reported killed in car-related accidents. In general, most aggressive driving can be minimized by not escalating the situation (do not yell, curse, or give rude hand signals) and by avoiding vehicles that are driving recklessly by moving out of the way. The Embassy strongly recommends the purchase of dash cameras for anyone driving a vehicle in the country. When driving, adhere to all local driving regulations. Avoid excessive speed and, when possible, do not drive at night outside of major cities. Be prepared for sudden stops or lane changes without a signal. For more information on self-driving, please review OSAC’s Report “Driving Overseas: Best Practices.”

Drivers targeted other drivers to cause an accident to extort money, while police target out of town and out of country drivers to extort fines. The police and other anti-corruption departments are trying to tamp down bribery and corruption with limited success. Roadside checkpoints are commonplace. Traffic police often use personally-owned vehicles without any police identification or special signals to set up the checkpoints. Traffic police often use these checkpoints to extract cash bribes in the form of “fines” for purported infractions. Payment of traffic fines should be made at local banks. Some police vehicles offer terminals for individuals with bank cards to pay fines immediately.

Due to heavy traffic and local driving habits, vehicle accidents are common. Fender benders routinely tie up traffic. Local law requires that vehicles involved in an accident remain in place until police arrive. Motorists involved in vehicle accidents are not permitted to move the vehicles unless they present a clear safety concern. If a driver moves his vehicle, he can be found at fault for the collision, regardless of any contributing factors. Police must be notified and will go to the accident location to conduct the investigation. People should be prepared to wait until the police arrive and complete their report.

Public Transportation Conditions

After dark, travelers should exercise caution when taking public transportation. The Embassy prohibits its employees from using unmarked or “gypsy” cabs; use radio-dispatched taxis instead and sit in the back seat. Attempt to utilize a seatbelt, however, not all taxi cabs have functional seatbelts. Visitors are advised to arrange for the use of a reputable, registered taxi service through their hotel. When getting a taxi on the street, agree on the price with the driver before getting in, otherwise the price may be significantly higher than in metered cabs. It is customary to negotiate a price with a taxi driver, as they often quote double what the metered tariff actually is. Visitors are also cautioned to avoid getting into taxis that already have a passenger.

The Embassy further prohibits employees from using marshrutka (route) buses, which make a profit by taking in as many passengers as can fit. Additionally, marshrutka drivers drive aggressively and rarely abide by traffic rules. Pickpockets are active on public transportation and are adept at slicing through purses, backpacks, and clothing. If taking public transportation is unavoidable, keep purses, shoulder bags, and backpacks closed, in front of you, or tucked under your arm to prevent theft. Multiple incidents of sexual harassment and groping while riding marshrutkas were reported in 2016.

Aviation/Airport Conditions

As there is no direct commercial air service to the U.S. by carriers registered in Kyrgyzstan, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed the government of Kyrgyzstan’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards.

Travelers arriving at Manas International Airport should arrange transportation in advance. Foreign travelers have been the victims of extortion by airport taxi drivers who appeared to be colluding with airport personnel to identify victims.

On January 16, 2017, a Turkish-owned CAT Airlines cargo Boeing 747 crashed near Manas International Airport, killing four crew and 35 village residents. The plane crashed on its approach to the airport. The reason for the crash is unclear, although weather (thick fog) and pilot error were cited for having played a role.

Terrorism Threat

THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED BISHKEK AS BEING A MEDIUM-THREAT LOCATION FOR TERRORIST ACTIVITY DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

Reports of returning ISIL fighters continue to permeate the press; however, the government claims an active role in capturing these individuals upon their arrival to Kyrgyzstan. The Kyrgyz government reports that the number of fighters leaving for Syria has declined in comparison to 2015. There is a discrepancy in government reporting on the number of Kyrgyz citizens who have left the country to fight for ISIL. The numbers reported in 2016 are significantly higher than those reported in 2015; however, it is unclear whether these numbers reflect the total number of fighters who left since the beginning of the conflict that were only recently discovered or if it represents an actual increase in those that joined ISIL.

Security forces conducted several special operations against terrorist organizations in 2016, capturing individuals possessing explosive devices and extremist literature.

The porous, mountainous borders, particularly in the south, make Kyrgyzstan a potential safe haven for terrorists. Due to the exit of Coalition Forces from Afghanistan in 2014, the Kyrgyz government is concerned that terrorist and extremist groups may move north into Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. Supporters of extremist groups (Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), the Islamic Jihad Union (IJU), al-Qai’da, and the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM)) remain active in Central Asia.

  • In September 2016, police located and detonated several explosive devices near downtown Bishkek and have since made several terrorism-related arrests throughout Kyrgyzstan.
  • On August 30, 2016, a vehicle-borne explosive device detonated at the Chinese Embassy, which is located less than 250 meters from the U.S. Embassy. The media reported that the attack killed the driver and injured three others. According to local news reports, the preliminary findings of the government investigation indicate that the attacker was an ethnic Uighur, raising the possibility of a connection to Uighur separatists.

 

In December 2016, Bishkek police department partnered with other agencies to conduct unannounced security assessments at the Frunze hypermarket, Technopark center, Ayu Grand Comfort trade center, and the Architectural University. An improvised explosive device was placed inside a clear plastic bag and brought in undetected by the security guards at each location. The police then offered training to the security staff at each of the businesses.

Anti-American/Anti-Western Sentiment

Extremist groups express anti-U.S. sentiments and may attempt to target U.S. government or private interests in the region, including in Kyrgyzstan.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED BISHKEK AS BEING A HIGH-THREAT LOCATION FOR POLITICAL VIOLENCE DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.

Despite a history of civil unrest and ethnic violence, local city council elections and voting on a national constitutional referendum (supporting the adoption of constitutional amendments) proceeded peacefully.

Civil Unrest

Overall, 2016 was comparable in political stability to 2015. Kyrgyzstan has the propensity for small, local, violent, and/or nonviolent events to occur spontaneously with the potential to spread rapidly into wide-scale, violent demonstrations and general disorder.

  • In early 2016, a British citizen working for Kumtor caused a protest by posting a culturally insensitive remark about a national dish on social media. The individual was arrested for inciting national, racial, religious, or interregional hatred and was deported several days later. This was the first incident of this type involving a foreigner. Please exercise caution when using social media and making culturally-sensitive or political comments.

 

Religious/Ethnic Violence

There were no large-scale inter-ethnic clashes. However, the potential for ethnic clashes remains, especially in the south. The government has yet to investigate ethnic clashes from 2010.

There is a longstanding dispute concerning sections of the Kyrgyz and Uzbek border that sometimes results in skirmishes in Batken province, resulting in a few deaths and causalities over the last few years. Similarly, there have been sporadic cases of unrest along the Kyrgyz/Tajik border between border troops, sometimes spilling over into the local populace.

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

Kyrgyzstan is located in an active seismic zone and is subject to frequent tremors and occasional strong earthquakes. In 2016, Kyrgyzstan had over 100 registered earthquakes of various magnitudes. Buildings and homes generally do not meet U.S. seismic standards. It is highly recommended to store water, food, and medical supplies to last at least three days.

In the summer of 2016, heavy rain and hail resulted in mudslides in the Kadamzhai region of Batken oblast and in the Issyk Kul region, resulting in property and road destruction.

Critical Infrastructure Concerns

The Ministry of Emergency Situations states that there are a number of uranium mine tailings scattered throughout Kyrgyzstan. The uranium mine at Kara Balta (about 50 kilometers west of Bishkek) is active.

Privacy Concerns

Local security services carefully watch foreign visitors and may place foreigners under surveillance. Hotel rooms (including meeting rooms), offices, cars, taxis, telephones, Internet usage, and fax machines may be monitored onsite or remotely, and personal possessions, including computers, may be searched without consent/knowledge. Business travelers should be particularly mindful that trade secrets, negotiating positions, and other business sensitive information may be shared with competitors, counterparts, and/or regulatory and legal entities.

OSAC constituents have no expectation of privacy. Telephone and electronic communications are subject to surveillance, which can compromise sensitive information. Travelers should assume all communications are monitored. All travelers are encouraged to weigh their desire to stay connected with these risks, and take precautions to keep personal information protected.

When utilizing local services for banking, security, and medical treatment, U.S. citizens should ensure that the providers are reputable organizations. Be cautious in the amount of information that you make available. It is not uncommon for employees of these organizations to pass sensitive personal medical, financial, and banking information to criminal elements.

Personal Identity Concerns

Discrimination against ethnic groups, especially ethnic Uzbeks, remains a problem.

Drug-related Crimes

While the use of narcotics and illegal drugs is relatively low, drug trafficking is a problem. Because of porous borders and close proximity to Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan is a transit country for illegal drugs, which are smuggled to Russia, Europe, and occasionally North America.

Corruption and lack of training/equipment for law enforcement agencies hamper efforts to control the flow of drugs. In December 2016, authorities, while conducting law enforcement reform, disbanded the State Drug Control Service and passed its duties to three agencies: the Health Ministry, the Ministry of Interior, and the State Service for Fighting Economic Crimes.

Kidnapping Threat

Kidnapping foreigners is very rare with no recently reported incidents.

The practice of bridal kidnapping is common in rural areas, although it is sometimes staged based on a pre-agreement with the bride or her family.

Express kidnapping for ransom does occur, with a reported incident taking place in Bishkek in January 2017, when a local resident was kidnapped by four taxi drivers. The government cautions foreigners against traveling close to the border with Tajikistan, as kidnappings for ransom have taken place there over the last few years.

Police Response

Police and security forces are poorly paid, poorly equipped, and often corrupt. Officials have been known to solicit bribes to supplement their insufficient incomes. The quality of police service may vary significantly, and one must usually speak Russian or Kyrgyz to converse with local authorities. Police officers rarely speak English. Vehicle and pedestrian stops of local nationals and foreigners are frequent.

Passports are required for many transactions and situations (hotel check-in, inquiries by police). Travelers are advised to have the proper identity documents or a certified copy of their passport and visa with them and to cooperate with police authorities if stopped for questioning. The U.S. Embassy may assist you with making a certified copy (the fee for this service is US$50). It is also advisable to have at least two photocopies of your passport’s photo page: one on your person and another in a safe location.

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

If you are detained or harassed by the police, you should contact the American Citizen Services Unit at the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy. Harassment/extortion by police and people who purport to be police officers take place. U.S. citizens should not act upon requests by people, whether in civilian dress or in police uniform, if they have no official identification. U.S. citizens should not get into cars with anyone they do not know, even if the person claims to be a police officer.

Crime Victim Assistance

The local emergency number is 102. However, operators are likely to speak only Russian or Kyrgyz. There are no victims’ assistance programs.

Police/Security Agencies

The MVD (Ministry of Internal Affairs) is the central law enforcement body. The Traffic Police (GAI) is the MVD entity responsible for the regulation of traffic and investigating traffic accidents. The MVD is essentially a national police agency in charge of investigation of all types of crimes, to include drug control function and combating violent extremism.

The State Committee for National Security (GKNB), is Kyrgyzstan’s main federal security agency with broad functions akin to those of an intelligence gathering and a law enforcement agency, specializing in counterintelligence and counterterrorism activities. The GKNB combines functions and powers similar to those exercised by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and the U.S. National Security Agency.

Medical Emergencies

Medical care is inadequate, and there is a shortage of basic medical supplies. Health care resources are limited and often below US standards. Doctors and medical/hospital staff rarely speak English, and prices for treatment are not fixed. It is advisable to utilize the services of a translator or Russian/Kyrgyz speaking friend/family member to assist with medical treatment. Doctors and hospitals often expect cash payment for health services prior to dispensing medication or providing treatment.

In the event of a medical emergency, travelers can call 103 for the Bishkek City Ambulance or 151 for commercial ambulance service. Operators and medical professionals have limited/no English language ability and will only understand Russian or Kyrgyz.

Contact Information for Available Medical Services

A list of ambulance services, clinics, hospitals, dentists and pharmacies may be accessed on the Embassy website.

Insurance Guidance

U.S. citizens often travel outside of Kyrgyzstan for medical treatment, including most routine procedures. The Embassy strongly recommends that travelers purchase medical evacuation insurance before traveling to Kyrgyzstan. Make sure your health insurance plan covers you when you are outside of the U.S. The U.S. Embassy cannot provide you with medical treatment or advice.

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

The level of air pollution in Bishkek is the highest, occasionally exceeding maximum allowable concentrations several times over, especially in the city center.  

Food sanitation can be a problem, and the Embassy recommends that travelers in the countryside drink bottled water and avoid tap water.

The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Kyrgyzstan.

OSAC Country Council Information

The Bishkek Country Council meets four times a year and has approximately 40 member organizations (31 member organizations from the private sector and 8 member organizations from the diplomatic community. Please contact OSAC’s South and Central Asia team with any questions or to join. The POC for OSAC issues is Regional Security Officer William P Margulies, who can be reached at MarguliesWP2@state.gov.

U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information

Embassy Address and Hours of Operation

U.S. Embassy Bishkek
171 Prospect Mira
Bishkek 720016 Kyrgyzstan

Hours of Operation: 0830-1700

Embassy Contact Numbers

Operator:  996-312-597-000
Emergency After-Hours:  996-312-597-733
Website:  http://bishkek.usembassy.gov/

Embassy Guidance

Travelers are encouraged to check their visa to ensure it is valid through the length of their stay and are asked to register their trip online at the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). There is no visa required for U.S. citizens for a 60-day stay. If traveling in Kyrgyzstan, you should consider obtaining visas for Russia, as commercial air travel out of Kyrgyzstan is limited. This visa cannot be extended in country. The visa for a 30-day stay is available for purchase at the airport for short-term visitors and business travelers. This visa can be extended while you are in country. A five-year, multi-entry, visa is available at any Kyrgyz Embassy abroad. It costs US$160 plus a US$45 issuance fee (if approved) and is non-refundable. This visa allows visitors to stay for up to six months for tourism or business travel. This visa cannot be extended in country. None of these visa categories allow U.S. citizens to work. If you seek to work, you must have a work permit and work visa.

Kyrgyzstan requires all visitors staying longer than 60 days to register with the State Registration Service. Additional information on the registration process can be found on the website for the Kyrgyz State Registration Service.

Additional Resources

For additional security information on the region, consult the Country Specific Information and the Consular Messages for Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. The U.S. Embassy in each of these countries can provide up-to-date information about local crime and safety issues. Information about how to contact each U.S. Embassy is available on the
Consular Affairs home page.

For the latest security information, U.S. citizens traveling abroad should regularly monitor the State Department's website.

Kyrgyzstan Country Information Sheet