Bangkok to Bishkek via Belarus

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The story of a group of Kirghiz tour guides stranded by Covid-19 in Belarus

By Olga Borzenkova

Plenty of people take a dream holiday in Thailand, the “land of smiles” to escape the cold and gloom of a Central Asian winter. Some stay longer, working as tour guides for the huge Russian-speaking market.

Pre Covid, that is.

As tourists left Thailand en masse a group of 14 young Kyrgyz guides found themselves without work and decided to leave.

“When the evacuation began, we had to send all our guests back home. And together with our last guests we arrived in Moscow ourselves”, recalls Raisa, one of their number.

When they got off the nine-hour flight to Moscow they discovered there were no flights to Bishkek, capital of Kyrgyzstan. Their only options were to wait it out in the airport transit zone or to take a flight to Sweden or Belarus. They chose the latter: visa free for Kyrgyz nationals, with no lockdown or border restrictions. Plus they knew the language.

So, the group booked a flight from Moscow to Minsk and expected to get back home in a few days. But, as the “new normal” started to hit, flights from Minsk to Bishkek were suspended too.

Another one of the group, Milyas, remembers “My father called me five times a day, not to mention calls from my mother and grandmother ... and my sister who said: ‘If you had started to walk home from Bangkok, you would be home already—I calculated it’!”.

Two months later, homesick and with their money trickling away, the group got in touch with IOM via their embassy in Belarus. Within a few days they were able to avail of IOM’s Assisted Voluntary Return Programme, and their flights home were supported by the European Union.

They are still living in uncertain times, like all of us, but another group member, Nadezha summed up the mood. “I hope, when we return home, it will get better in Kyrgyzstan, and we will start anew.”

Date of publication: 
Oct 05, 2020
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