Bishkek and Osh are home to more than 80 nationalities where stories, cultures, and traditions blend.

In celebration of the city’s diversity on the 20th of April, the Aikol Society Cultural Fest highlights inclusion through an array of music, dance, cuisine, arts, and folk performances.  “Aikol” When translated from the Kyrgyz language, means an inclusive and respectful society, willing and ready to support migrants who come to study, work, and travel in the Kyrgyz Republic.

Kaushik, Smith, Tuscarora, Manu, Yash, and Priyanka all migrated from India to pursue their dream of becoming doctors at the International Higher School of Medicine in Bishkek.  Brought together by shared dreams, their passion for dance also allured them to perform at the aikol society cultural fest. Their sensational performance showcased the beauty of Indian culture through coordinated outfits, traditional dances, and an unbeatable energy. Starting with a slow and graceful introduction, moving to a fast sequence, and ending with a spectacular finale.

They danced with passion and freedom, captivating the audience with their inviting attitude. The Sensation, as they call themselves, were encouraged by the welcoming crowd, which is a clear picture of the warm appreciation for all cultures present at the event.

The festival is part of IOM’s Aikol Society information campaign launched last June to promote social cohesion through migrant-inclusive socio-economic growth by prioritizing decreased xenophobic and anti-migrant sentiments among the Kyrgyz host society, whilst also increasing the safety of international migrants in the Kyrgyz Republic through initiatives designed to enhance mutual positive perception.

“Really enjoyed it, I wish there were more events like this. Many nations, many cultures, everything was bright and beautiful. Everyone felt good, performers did a fantastic job!” – Aliya, a guest of the festival.

“I saw many cultures here, and I would like to highlight Japanese and Chinese cultural performances. They have the best musicians. After I got to this event, I feel like I discovered a new world!” said Sandeep, a student from India.

So far, the campaign has carried out information sessions, clean-up activities, quiz nights, art workshops and Trolleybus of Tolerance public transportation rides on the World Tolerance Day, where people riding the trolleybus learned about respect and appreciation of the rich variety of our world's cultures, our forms of expression and ways of being human. These are unique opportunities for citizens and migrants alike to learn about the history and traditions of each other's cultures, and how they enrich the social fabric of the two largest cities in the country.

In recent years, there has been an increase in foreign students in Kyrgyzstan due to affordable cost of living and tuition fees as well as simplified admission process. According to the National Statistical Committee of the Kyrgyz Republic, more than 35% of all students of higher education institutions are foreign citizens. Historically, Kyrgyzstan’s population is ethnically diverse. 75% of the population are Kyrgyz, and the rest consists of various ethnic groups such as Russians, Ukrainians, Jews, Tatars, Uzbeks, Kazakhs, Tajiks, Koreans, Uighurs, and Germans who were exiled from the Soviet Union in 1941. Additionally, as of mid-2020, there were about 199,000 international migrants residing in Kyrgyzstan and, according to UNHCR, as of 2021 there were 327 refugees (209 from Afghanistan) and 452 asylum seekers (384 from Turkey; up from 164 in 2019). Chinese migrants occupy 77% of the annual migrant labour quota, mainly holding the jobs left vacant because of the outflow of Kyrgyz citizens abroad and operating businesses, especially in the power, industrial and fuel sectors. Although, the society in general is tolerant based on the IOM-conducted survey, xenophobic attitudes, sometimes even resulting in severe physical violence occur occasionally.   

IOM’s social inclusion and countering xenophobia programs worldwide aim to foster positive attitudes and behaviors towards migrants, combat discrimination and hate speech, and celebrate diversity and intercultural dialogue.

“Kyrgyzstan is increasingly becoming a destination for education, work, tourism, and business for foreigners. Growing diverse migrant populations provide an opportunity for socio-economic growth in Kyrgyzstan,” – stated Zeynal Hajiyev, Chief of Mission in IOM-Kyrgyzstan.

SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities