Kazakhstan 2008 Crime & Safety Report
Crime & Safety
South / Central Asia - Kazakhstan
2 Apr 2008
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11 Mar 2010
Kazakhstan 2010 Crime & Safety Report
Overall Crime and Safety Situation
Petty theft continues to be the most common form of crime perpetrated against American citizens in Kazakhstan. Pick-pockets tend to frequent tourist sites, open-air markets and public transportation, especially mini-buses. Travelers are recommended to disperse money throughout their pockets, separating large from small bills.
Another crime the U.S. Embassy received reports on was vehicle break-ins. Often times break-ins occured in well populated areas at all times of the day. The purpotrators would smash in the windows and steal items in plain view. Americans in Kazakhstan are cautioned to lock their car doors and to keep the car clear of valuable items.
Several Americans reported physical assaults in 2007, which occurred in the early morning hours and usually involved alcohol. RSO received one report of alleged rape following heavy drinking in the home of a local resident. In spring 2007, two uniformed police verbally harassed and physically accosted Americans on a street in Astana. These assaults occurred in industrialized urban centers in different areas of Kazakhstan.
In other cases, Americans fell victim to intimidation, and as a result, lost belongings or cash. Since October 2006, the official American community suffered three burglaries, two robberies, two incidents of vandalism, three assaults and one illegal entry at a residence. According to host-government crime statistics, the Kazakhstani community suffers a similar percentage of these crimes (between 92 and 97 persons in 10,000 are victims of crime every year).
Scams involving so-called gypsy cabs and private drivers acting as taxis increased in the past year. Gypsy cabs have been reported to extort money or steal luggage from private American citizens who arrive at the Almaty airport. One American in Astana in 2005 was driven into an alley where he was beaten and robbed by five individuals, sustaining a severe head injury. One American was subjected to intimidation when her bus broke down in Astana. The bus driver summoned a “cab” for her, which picked up other local men, took her to the edge of town and intimidated her into surrendering her wallet. A local woman passing by the car on foot, sensed the American’s distress, pulled her out of the cab and put her on the correct bus back to town center. Tourists arriving at the airports are encouraged to take marked taxis that they see have already safely dropped off passengers. Always negotiate fares before getting into a cab and never board a cab that already has a passenger.
Dropped wallet scams, also known as “turkey drops,” are a common form of petty crime. This scam involves an unsuspecting tourist discovering a wallet or pile of money on the sidewalk. One accomplice will offer to split the contents with the victim. When the victim produces his wallet, a second accomplice grabs it or accuses the victim of stealing his wallet and solicits a bribe in exchange for not alerting police. Visitors are urged not to pick up wallets or engage local nationals regarding money that is found on the street. Turkey drops most often occur in close proximity to western style hotels or near ATM machines.
Drunken and disorderly behavior impacts American citizens. Incidents involving minor assaults, petty theft, attempted robberies, driving mishaps and violent verbal exchanges can often be traced to alcohol. Visitors are advised to leave night clubs, bars and restaurants should a fight break out. Drinking and driving is against the law, and persons committing this offense will face arrest or a fine.
The overall police presence in Almaty and Astana is significant, especially at night when regular law enforcement personnel are reinforced by Ministry of Internal Affairs conscripts who are fulfilling their compulsory military service. Police posted in booths around the city are not likely to intervene to prevent or stop a crime in progress. At best, these officers function as communication links to the more professional members of their units and simply call for assistance. The size and professional caliber of police in smaller regional cities is substantially less than that of their metropolitan counterparts. Many officers outside of Almaty and Astana are not experienced in dealing with foreigners and seldom speak English.
Police harassment continues to be a problem. Three hundred sixty-three incidents of police crime were reported by the Kazakhstani government in 2006; 211 of these were crimes of corruption. The predominance of the balance of those crimes was theft. Visitors should be aware that the police have the authority to stop individuals without reasonable suspicion or probable cause. All citizens and visitors must present an official form of identification (such as a passport or a certified copy thereof) to an officer upon request. Many Americans perceive identification checks as outright harassment, but failure to produce identification can result in temporary detainment or arrest. In some cases, the policeman’s intent is to extort money; more often than not, Americans are released without incident once the police become aware of the individual’s citizenship. Traffic police officers are omnipresent and are notorious for extortion.
Organized crime is active in Kazakhstan, but it is not as extensive as in other former Soviet Republics. As a general rule, casinos are owned and/or operated by organized Russian and Kazakhstani crime elements. Americans are encouraged to avoid these establishments for safety reasons. Most bars and nightclubs are relatively safe, but as the hour grows later, the probability of a physical altercation progressively increases. Fire codes at most nightclubs are non-existent. The outbreak of a fire could prove deadly on weekend nights when large crowds are present.
Crime Related to Drug-use and Trafficking
Illegal drugs are more prevalent in Kazakhstan now than at the time of the fall of the Soviet Union. Though there has been an increase in drug related crimes and the volume of drugs trafficked through and to Kazakhstan, law enforcement agencies have significantly increased counter-drug operations. In response to the increase in trafficking through Kazakhstan from the region to different parts of Europe, law enforcement agencies have conducted drug raids in the metropolitan areas and are focusing on security on the borders. As part of its response, the Government of Kazakhstan has instituted strategies to fight drug addiction and drug trafficking through demand reduction programs and strengthened inter-agency and international cooperation.
The Government has also focused on fighting corruption. In one case, a senior police official was sentenced to ten years in jail after attempting to force a young woman to sell heroin. Although the number of drug addicts rose from more than 54,000 in 2006 to more than 55,000 in 2007, and the unofficial estimate is several times greater, illegal narcotics in Kazakhstan are used more often for trade than for personal use.
Victims of personal crime, such as assault, should give statements to police as soon as possible. Only a certified Kazakhstani-licensed physician may collect physical evidence from victims for use in judicial proceedings. Further the victim must be available for police interview during investigation and provide testimony if the case comes to trial.
Driving in Kazakhstan is dangerous. Local drivers routinely run traffic lights, drive in oncoming lanes of traffic and move at excessive speeds, even during adverse weather conditions. Official Americans were involved in several accidents in the past year; one official American was killed in September 2006 as a result of a local driver who crossed the double line into oncoming traffic. Another concern for drivers is pedestrians, who can be equally unpredictable and reckless. Visitors who intend to drive are strongly encouraged to obtain adequate, local liability insurance and maintain parallel insurance with a U.S. carrier. Vehicles rarely yield to individuals crossing the street, even in officially marked crosswalks and at corners. It is not uncommon for vehicles to drive and park on sidewalks, especially during peak traffic hours when drivers’ patience runs thin.
Civil unrest in Kazakhstan is rare; there were no large-scale protests following the flawed December 2005 presidential elections or August 2007 parliamentary elections. There were no recent reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, though in February 2006, opposition leader Altynbek Sarsenbaiuly, his bodyguard and chauffeur were kidnapped and murdered by off-duty members of the Committee for National Security’s Special Forces unit. Ten suspects were convicted and imprisoned for the murders, although opposition leaders claimed that the court failed to follow up and investigate signs that other parties and high-level government officials may have been involved in instigating or ordering the killings.
The Government of Kazakhstan is vigilant against extremism, whether religious or political in nature. For example, distribution of information from the Islamist political extremist group Hizb-ut-Tahir was banned under a 2005 anti-extremism law and authorities periodically detain followers of the group and confiscate their literature. The Government’s wariness of extremism occasionally results in interference or denial of registration to other groups that are non-traditional in Kazakhstan, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, Hare Krishnas or evangelical Christians.
In the spring and summer of 2007 there were isolated clashes between ethnic Kazakhs and ethnic Chechens or Uighurs in rural villages outside of Almaty, resulting from tensions over local issues and corruption. These incidents followed a few clashes between contracted foreign construction workers and their Kazakhstani counterparts in a few cities in the fall of 2006. In these cases, Kazakhstani construction workers publicly complained that their wages were less than those paid to the foreign workers.
In order to hold a demonstration, organizers must file a petition with the city and receive a permit. In general, most demonstrations that take place involve only a handful of participants. Occasionally, groups organize demonstrations without permits; police generally disburse the participants quickly and peacefully. There have been no major demonstrations at official American facilities this year.
Post Specific Concerns
The most significant concern in Almaty involves the threat of an earthquake in the southeastern part of Kazakhstan where the Embassy Branch Office is located. Almaty itself sits on a major fault line and experienced a sizeable earthquake in the early twentieth century that destroyed most of the city center. In the event of an earthquake of large magnitude in Almaty, it is expected that the city could suffer a significant amount of damage due to substandard Soviet-era infrastructure; there could also be a large number of fatalities. Emergency response in Almaty and other major metropolitan areas is improving, but is still inadequate to handle a mass casualty incident.
The overall transnational terrorist threat in Kazakhstan remains a genuine concern. Americans should regularly review travel warnings for Kazakhstan and other central Asian republics issued by the Department of State to obtain the latest threat information. Registering with the American Citizen Services (ACS) Section at https://travelregistration.state.gov
is strongly recommended, since the Embassy’s ACS section regularly issues warden messages via e-mail. Americans are advised to vary their routines, work schedules, commuting times, routes and social activities to reduce the risk of becoming a victim of terrorist-related violence. Americans are strongly encouraged to report all suspicious activity to the ACS section for review by the Regional Security Officer and other post officials.
Police response varies depending upon one’s location and the type of crime. Investigators are often forced to follow procedures that seem to have little relation to the crime that was committed. Police officers have been very diligent in their efforts to solve some of the more severe forms of crimes committed against Americans.
Victims of crime should contact the police by dialing l02 from any phone in Kazakhstan. The Consular Section’s ACS Unit at may be reached at 7-727-250-4901. In the event of an emergency, after business hours, on holidays or weekends, Americans are advised to call the Embassy emergency number (7-7172-70-21-00) and ask to speak with the Embassy duty officer. The Embassy maintains Consular offices at the following locations:
Street 23-22, Building 3
Ak Bulak 4
Astana, Kazakhstan 010010
Almaty: Samal -2
97 ulitsa Zholdasbekova
Almaty, Kazakhstan 050059
Additional information may be found at the following website:
United States Diplomatic Mission to Kazakhstan - Home
Quality western medical care is generally not available in Kazakhstan. When time and the type of injury allow, it is recommended that those seeking medical treatment be stabilized and then medically evacuated to Western Europe. Almaty has a small clinic run by International SOS (see below) that offers immediate care and stabilization before being medically evacuated from the country. Serious long-term care is not a viable option in either Astana or Almaty. The following clinic in Almaty provides western-type medical services:
SOS International Clinic
11 Luganskogo Street, corner of Satpayev Street
7-7272-58-19-11 (24 hrs)
7-300-722-8000 (24 hrs)
Website: International SOS
The SOS clinic is a combination ambulatory facility with two beds for more seriously injured patients; there are x-ray and laboratory facilities available and a western-trained physician is on-call 24 hours daily.
It is recommended that visitors purchase a form of medical insurance that includes a provision for medical evacuation. Air evacuations to medical facilities in Europe are prohibitively expensive. Depending on the patient’s condition, private medical evacuations can cost more than one hundred thousand dollars which must be paid up front. Travelers are encouraged to review the terms of their medical insurance to ensure that they have adequate coverage for medical emergencies, including possible evacuation.
Astana SOS International Clinic
8 Beibitshilik, in Grand Park Esil hotel building
7-7172-58-09-37 (24 hrs)
7-701-745-9876 (24 hrs)
Astana SOS clinic is a small facility with two beds for more seriously injured patients. SOS clinic has agreements with local medical facilities for diagnostics and hospitalizations. There are only locally trained physicians who are on-call 24 hours daily.
How To Avoid Becoming a Victim
Please see section I of this report for a detailed list of the more common types of crime that Americans encounter in Kazakhstan. Professional pick-pockets are known to ride heavily traveled public transportation routes in search of potential victims. Travelers should avoid riding overly crowded buses, microbuses and trolleys whenever possible. Many foreigners follow the local custom of hailing private vehicles (so called 'gypsy cabs') on the street and negotiating a fee with the driver on the spot. Use of such cabs is strongly discouraged. Visitors who do use such transportation should never get into a cab if there is already a passenger in the vehicle. Unfortunately, foreigners have literally been taken for a ride, robbed and left at an out-of-the-way location. Insofar as possible, visitors to Kazakhstan should make arrangements to be met at the airport by their sponsor or hotel.
Kazakhstan is primarily a cash economy. It is recommended that visitors limit their credit card use to major western institutions such as hotels. ATM fraud does not appear to be a problem in Kazakhstan. Nevertheless, visitors are encouraged to use machines that are physically located at banking institutions. Citibank maintains a number of ATMs in Almaty and Astana that have proven to be reliable in the past. The use of so-called Tindependentil ATMs is strongly discouraged as there is little or no recourse for recovering lost funds.
For Additional Information
Please feel free to contact the following sections at the American Embassy in Astana or the Embassy Branch Office in Almaty, Kazakhstan:
American Citizen Services: 7-7272-50-48-10
After hours: 7-7172-70-22-00
Regional Security Officer (Astana) : 7-7172-70-23-96
After hours: 7-7272-70-22-00.
Foreign Commercial Service: 7-7272-50-48-50