Rumors have been flying fast and furiously about the closure of the Kazakhstan Peace Corps. Now the embassy has confirmed it: as of next week, the Peace Corps in Kazakhstan is no more. An official statement is forthcoming.
One of several emails going around states that the Peace Corps fears the recent spate of terrorist attacks in the country (statement from Jund al-Khalifah here), along with an alarming rise in sexual assaults against female volunteers. Another problem cited is a rise in accusations that PCVs have engaged in espionage—a not entirely original accusation, but one that could potentially make life for the volunteers unsafe. A last problem is the raising of concerns about the educational qualifications of volunteers. I’ve not heard about rising anti-Americanism, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.
The Peace Corps is right now dealing with allegations about indifference and even mistreatment of women who have faced sexual assault. Kazakhstan is a huge country, and it can be difficult to make sure that volunteers in far-flung cities are being adequately cared for (Tom Bissell rather famously had a mental breakdown during his abbreviated stint in the Peace Corps in smaller, more densely-populated Uzbekistan).
The assault part is what should be so worrying, far moreso than the terrorism (which seems so far to be entirely anti-State and not Jihad-against-the-West, if that makes sense). From a very unscientific survey of four people either in or with contact in the Central Asian Peace Corp community, there seems to have been a shocking number of violent assaults against volunteers, with one saying the sexual assault rate was the highest of any Peace Corps mission on the planet. There are also credible reports of racial persecution against African-American volunteers, and I’m trying to confirm one case of a volunteer being withdrawn over racial concerns.
This is a huge loss. I spent a too brief time in Karaganda too many years ago, and came to deeply care for and appreciate Kazakhstan. It’s painful to see the country, which seems so thriving from afar, struggling with terrorism and a disgusting violence toward foreigners (especially foreigner women). The Peace Corps is not a perfect organization, but their volunteers, and Kazakhstan, deserve far better than this.