The Peace Corps, which sends thousands of Americans abroad every year to volunteer in public health, education and business development, is pulling out of Kazakhstan, according to unconfirmed reports. Volunteers say they have been ordered home within the next couple of weeks.
Peace Corps HQ did not respond to EurasiaNet.org's request for confirmation, but volunteers are adamant that – 18 years after the first contingent arrived in Kazakhstan – the program is closing.
Lisa Murray, a youth development volunteer in South Kazakhstan Region, blogged on November 17 that the Peace Corps would be leaving Kazakhstan next week.
She pointed to some possible reasons, including safety concerns over terrorism and what she said was the highest level of sexual assault and rape among the countries in which Peace Corps operates.
She says she knows of four incidents of “rape or sexual assault” of volunteers in Kazakhstan in a year – but adds that she does “not believe that Kazakhstan is an overly dangerous country” and has experienced nothing but “warmness, kindness, and hospitality.”
Not everyone in Kazakhstan welcomes the Peace Corps, however. In October the Aktobe Times, a Russian-language newspaper in the country’s west, published a vitriolic attack on volunteers on its website, which was also picked up by other media.
The article, in a decidedly anti-American tone, not only accuses Peace Corps volunteers of teaching in schools without proper qualifications and of immoral behavior, it also bluntly suggests they may be spies, questioning whether “the all-perceiving eyes and sensitive ears of foreign intelligence officers have not been sent onto our territory?”
The Registan blog offers another theory: “There are rumors that Kazakhstan’s current Minister of Education is opposed to the presence of Peace Corps Volunteers in the schools and universities and colleges of the country.”
In the absence of fact, such rumors will blossom. Perhaps it is time for Peace Corps to speak.