Thursday, November 17, 2011

After 18 Yrs in Kazakhstan, Peace Corps Will Reportedly Suspend Operations Due to Safety Issues

The Peace Corps will reportedly leave Kazakhstan soon, with all volunteers pulled out of the country and the local staff disbanded. Unconfirmed reports indicate that this decision is due largely "to growing safety issues, including terrorism and what has become the highest sexual assault/rape level among PC countries worldwide."

Here is a quick background of the Peace Corps operation in Kazakhstan, the ninth largest country in the world, a country nearly four times the size of Texas and one of the United States favored partners in Central Asia.

Over 1,176 Peace Corps Volunteers have served in Kazakhstan since the program was established in 1993. Currently, 126 Volunteers are serving in Kazakhstan. Volunteers in this Central Asian nation work in the areas of education, organization and community development, HIV/AIDS with support from the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) program, and youth development. English education Volunteers teach Kazakhstani students and also introduce local teachers to new methodologies through innovative team-teaching techniques. Organization and community development Volunteers help increase the capacity and technical skills of local community and non-governmental organizations; and youth development Volunteers teach work skills, healthy lifestyles and leadership to Kazakhstani youth. Volunteers are trained and work in Kazakh and Russian.
According to the State Department, the United States provided roughly $1.205 billion in technical assistance and investment support in the country between 1992 and 2005.

A PCV who blogs in Adventures in Kazakhstan writes:
"Yes Kazakhstan does currently rank number 1 among all Peace Corps for incidents of rape or sexual assault. Again, the extent to which this affected the decision to remove volunteers is unknown. I do not believe that Kazakhstan is an overly dangerous country. I have never truly felt threatened or unsafe. %90 percent of my experience has been positive, and the people here have ultimately expressed nothing but warmness, kindness, and hospitality. That being said, we did unfortunately have 4 (that I know of) incidents of rape/sexual assault within a 1-year period. While incidents do happen in every PC country, I think it is very rare to have this many incidents occur in such close proximity."
I don't know if one of those four incidents is this one which made it to the local papers on November 11, 2011.  Or if this case is the fifth.  See Peace Corps volunteer sexually abused in Karaganda oblast.

On Nov 2, the US Embassy in Astana released the following Emergency Message for U.S. citizens:
"In light of the explosions in Atyrau on October 31, 2011, the U.S. Mission encourages U.S. Citizens in Kazakhstan to review the most recent Worldwide Caution (see below). We urge U.S. citizens to exercise vigilance and to take measures for their own safety and security at all times. These measures include paying attention to surrounding circumstances and events, avoiding crowds, and keeping a low profile."
I've just reviewed Kazakhstan 2011 OSAC Crime and Safety Report: Astana, a report prepared annually by the U.S. Embassy.  There is no mention of rape anywhere. 

Email inquiries to both the US Embassy Astana and the Peace Corps office in Kazakhstan requesting confirmation for the suspension of operation have yet to receive a response.

Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.
Photos from US Peace Corps/Kazakhstan/Flickr


TSB said...


This PCV blogger hit the nail on the head, I think:

"Some of you back in the States may have gotten a few murky clues from your end of the rumor mill, but for those who haven’t, the situation is basically this: first of all, for reasons that I probably can’t go into on a public blog, no one in our organization knows if the leadership of Kazakhstan will allow us to stay in the country much longer (say, within another year). Secondly: since the summer there has been an inexplicable wave of rapes and sexual assaults on volunteers here ... and Peace Corps Headquarters in Washington recently dispatched a team of medical and security experts to Kazakhstan to assess our safety first-hand."

"I’ve decided to put certain restrictions on myself during my last months here. Most importantly, I intend not to form relationships of any kind, or even to carry on conversations, with most men here, because I think this culture has only one interpretation of the slightest closeness between a woman and a man. Maybe that isn’t really true – but in this case I’d rather risk being wrong than find out the hard way I was right."

It looks like USPC headquarters has also decided it rather be safe than sorry.

Domani Spero said...

Thanks TSB! I haven't seen this but the blogger's reaction is prudent. The time frame I'm hearing for the pull out is in the near term not months.