Kazakhstan struggles to accommodate Russians fleeing mobilisation
Kazakhstan is struggling to accommodate tens of thousands of Russians who have fled their homeland since Moscow announced a military mobilization last week, officials say, but the Almaty government has no plans to close its border.
Russian men, some with families, started crossing the world's second-longest land border en masse after Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the mobilization of reservists last week amid a stalled military campaign in Ukraine.
Russians do not need a visa or even a passport to enter Kazakhstan, just their Russian identity papers. The Russian language is also widely spoken in the country, which is home to a large ethnic Russian minority.
However, the sudden influx of Russians - the government says almost 100,000 have crossed the border since the mobilization announcement - has stretched the infrastructure of the vast but sparsely populated nation. Hotels and hostels are full, and rent has skyrocketed.
Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, whose administration has refused to support what Russia calls a "special military operation" in Ukraine, urged patience and tolerance.
"A lot of people from Russia have come here over the last few days," he said in a speech on Tuesday. "Most of them were forced to leave by the desperate situation."
"We must take care of them and ensure their safety. This is a political and humanitarian matter," Tokayev said.
His government will discuss the situation with Moscow, he said.
At the same time, the interior ministry published a proposal to change immigration rules this week that would limit to three months the time Russians can stay in Kazakhstan unless they have a passport.
While some Kazakhs have already called for border closures or restrictions on Russians' entry, others have arranged meeting points for arriving Russians and set up volunteer networks to help them find shelter.