Surviving turmoil: Pakistani student's journey from Bishkek to Karachi

Zuha Naushab narrates ordeal of Pakistani students stranded in Bishkek during violent mob attacks

Kehkashan Bukhari
May 25, 2024
Surviving turmoil: Pakistani students journey from Bishkek to Karachi
Zuha Naushab, a medical student from Karachi pursuing studies in Bishkek in this still taken from a video. — Geo Digital

The nation anxiously awaited the safe return of Pakistani students after unrest erupted in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan last week.

However, the government has started evacuating students from Bishkek, with hundereds already reunited with their families.

Among the returnees is Zuha Naushab — a medical student from Karachi pursuing her MBBS at one of Bishkek’s universities — who has now safely reunited with her family in Karachi.

In an exclusive interview with Geo Digital, Zuha shared her experiences, describing the harrowing days and nights she endured during this tumultuous period.

"I didn’t want to waste a year, I chose Bishkek’s university in 2021 to pursue medical sciences because of a delay in the MDCAT examination. I had been living in central Bishkek for almost three years and always considered it one of the safest and most secure places, especially for women. I never imagined that my perception would change overnight. It was a nightmare," Naushab told Geo Digital.

The night of terror in Bishkek

Students, driven by hard work and determination, often venture abroad to pursue their studies, leaving behind their families and investing significant amounts in tuition fees.

This decision may stem from a passion for learning or the economic challenges faced in Pakistan. However, a recent incident has cast a shadow over the safety of foreign students in Kyrgyzstan.

"The experience was nothing short of traumatic for us foreigners. Looking out from my apartment window, I witnessed a scene of sheer tragedy. A hostile mob lurked outside, targeting foreign students," Zuha recalled.

She said that they dimmed the lights of the appartment she shared with four other girls immediately after seeing the violent locals, and remained as quiet as possible, fearing for their lives.

"The first night felt like an eternity of fear and uncertainty. Despite exhaustion, sleep evaded me for two consecutive days due to the overwhelming terror," she said.

Fear and chaos at Bishkek airport

Zuha, the eldest daughter in her family with a younger brother and sister, found herself in a situation where her mother's concerns for her safe return were overshadowed by the grim reality.

"To be honest, I had no hope of seeing my parents again," Zuha admitted.

She revealed that the road leading to Bishkek’s airport was packed with people chanting slogans against foreigners.

"I watched as drivers scanning the surroundings, with their eyes darting like they were searching for targets," she said.

Zuha said that her friends recounted stories of locals beating up foreigners at the airport while they waited for their flights.

The scene was chaotic, there were hundreds of students pleading with locals to let them leave peacefully, she added.

"But the pleas fell on deaf ears, Zuha recalled, her voice trembling with fear. Many were injured and forced to return to their apartments."

As Zuha shared her account, she paused for a second.

"My friend told me they sat at the airport for hours without food," she continued, her voice tinged with sorrow.

Unity in crisis: Pakistani students as beacons of hope

During the harrowing days of crisis, Pakistani students found themselves as beacons of hope within their community.

Zuha shared a heartening account of how they rallied together, voluntarily aiding girls trapped in buildings surrounded by hostile mobs.

"I've witnessed a remarkable sense of community among Pakistanis here, like our Indian and Bangladeshi fellows," she remarked.

Zuha said that a group of Pakistani male students took the initiative to establish a helpline, dedicated to assisting those facing crisis or abuse. She disclosed that many girls were harassed, and some even became silent after mob attacks.

"When we approached them to ask what had happened, they were too shocked to speak. It's unimaginable what they went through," she explained.

As Zuha continued, her voice filled with gratitude, she told Geo Digital that one of her friends was trapped in a building surrounded by a violent mob.

"I immediately called the helpline, and within minutes, a group of Pakistani students arrived at their apartment and successfully rescued her, we are really thankful to them," she said.

Zuha said that the ordeal lasted for five agonising days, but the joy upon finally reuniting with her parents at Karachi airport was indescribable.

Reflecting on her journey home, Zuha recalled the calming sight of Karachi's twinkling lights from high above as her plane descended.

"Seeing my city from the sky brought me a sense of peace and relief, when I hugged my parents at the airport I felt finally at home," she added.

Uncertain future: Zuha's appeal to govt for support

Now back home, Zuha finds herself grappling with concerns about her future.

"We're in a situation where returning to Kyrgyzstan is not an option. The locals' hearts seem filled with animosity towards foreigners, and our parents understandably do not want us to go back to a place that is no longer safe for us," she explained.

Therefore, Zuha earnestly appeals to the government: "I implore the authorities to extend support to students like us, who are mere months or a year away from completing our degrees. While new students can seek enrollment here, those of us from green-listed universities desperately need assistance."