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Turkey Ends Visa-Free Access for Tajik Citizens

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Turkey Ends Visa-Free Access for Tajik Citizens

In the aftermath of the Crocus City Hall attack, Tajiks find their world shrinking further.

Turkey Ends Visa-Free Access for Tajik Citizens
Credit: Depositphotos

Since 2018, Tajik citizens have been able to travel to Turkey for up to 90 days without a visa. That opening is closing soon, with Turkish authorities announcing that a visa regime will be put in place starting April 20.

The announcement came in the wake of the attack on the Crocus City Hall concert venue on the outskirts of Moscow on March 22, in which four attackers slaughtered more than 140 people. The four alleged attackers, detained by Russian authorities and clearly tortured, are reportedly Tajik citizens. Although the Islamic State’s Afghanistan-based affiliate, ISKP, has claimed responsibility for the attack, Moscow has contorted itself to link the incident to Ukraine, hewing to the old adage “never waste a good crisis.” And officials in Dushanbe aren’t arguing either; they also known how to capitalize on a crisis

In the meantime, ethnic Tajiks living in Russia – either as Russian citizens or migrant workers – and other Central Asians have faced increased stigmatization, discrimination, and possible deportation. As RFE/RL reported in late March, as Russian authorities stepped up immigration enforcement, many Tajiks began to leave the country on their own.

The world is shrinking for Tajik passport holders.

On April 6, a decision dated the previous day by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was published. The announcement stated: “It has been decided to abolish the visa exemption for ordinary passport holders of Tajikistan during their travels to Turkey…”

Tajik Foreign Ministry Press Secretary Shokhin Samadi told Asia-Plus that Dushanbe had not been officially notified of the change. “According to international practice, the Turkish side should have notified the Tajik side in advance about the date of introduction of the visa regime for citizens of Tajikistan,” he said. “We note that the Tajik side has not yet received such information through diplomatic channels.”

Samadi reportedly cited reciprocity, suggesting that Tajikistan is considering the introduction of a visa regime for Turkish citizens in response.

On April 7, Turkey’s embassy in Dushanbe clarified, posting a notice that “Visa-free travel to Turkey for citizens of the Republic of Tajikistan… has been lifted by order of the President’s Office” and adding that the new visa regime, under which Tajik citizens would need to acquire a valid visa before traveling, would go into effect on April 20. 

“The visa regime is expected to be temporary,” the notice said.

According to Asia-Plus, at present there are now 18 countries to which Tajik passport holders can travel without a visa, with durations varying widely. These include regional neighbors Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan (but not Turkmenistan), Russia and a number of other former Soviet republics, as well as Barbados, Haiti, the Philippines, Malaysia, and North Korea, among others.

Russia is a major destination for Central Asian labor migrants. It’s estimated that around a million Tajiks are working in Russia at any given time, a significant portion of Tajikistan’s 9.9 million population. Remittances to Tajikistan, as a share of GDP, reached 51 percent in 2022 – $5.3 billion. And hundreds of thousands of Tajiks have taken up Russian citizenship since the mid-1990s, with a considerable uptick in recent years. According to official Russian figures cited by RFE/RL, “more than 103,000 Tajik nationals obtained Russian citizenship in 2021. It marked a significant uptick from five years ago when only around 30,000 Tajiks received Russian passports.”

A recent New York Times headline sums the situation up: “In Moscow Attack, a Handful of Suspects but a Million Tajiks Under Suspicion.” Tajiks are not just under suspicion in Russia, as evidenced by Turkey’s decision to impose a new visa regime. Turkey has long been a migration, and vacation, destination for Central Asians; it has also served as something akin to a safe haven (although not really all that safe) for regional dissidents.