Crossing borders

Here are some photos from the second (and last) of my field trips with the photojournalism students from the University of Nebraska. This time we met up at 8am to go stand in the freezing cold at the Kyrgyzstan-Kazakhstan border. The students were interested in documenting residents of Kyrgyzstan who get paid to carry goods across the border so that the goods’ owners can avoid paying taxes. For example, Kazakhs who come to Kyrgyzstan to stock up on cheap clothing and merchandise can hire Kyrgyz people at the border, who will divide the goods into smaller bags, claim them as their own belongings and pay much less in fees (if anything at all) than the Kazakh person would have had to pay. For their trouble, the carriers can earn anywhere between 1000 to 4000 som (~$20-85) a day making these trips.

Generally, products such as clothing are produced more cheaply in Kyrgyzstan than in Kazakhstan, and it is also cheaper to import Chinese goods into Kyrgyzstan because of their membership in the World Trade Organization. These things should give Kyrgyzstan an opportunity to collect export and customs taxes from Kazakh buyers. In some way, this practice seems to showcase a distrust in the government. Why pay taxes to a government that you feel does not directly benefit you, when you can perform this task and get paid now?

When we first arrived, the sky was dark and the border seemed mostly empty. During nicer weather, the lake and trees adjacent to the border area might look less intimidating.

It was around 10am when activities started to pick up and more cars began unloading goods, either to sell at the border or to be divided, packaged and carried across. Below, a man prepares to unload boxes of apples and pears from the back of his car to sell to people waiting to cross the border.

People crowded around this car to claim products they could carry across the border.

Here, a variety of clothing is stuffed into large bags to prepare it to be transported on foot to Kazakhstan.

After a large van arrived full of objects, these two women watched as dozens of Kyrgyz residents divided the contents into individual duffle bags.

With all of her bags at full capacity, this woman sets off toward Kazakhstan.

First, she receives part of her payment.

She waits for clearance on the Kyrgyz side of the border, and Kazakhstan is in sight.

The mantikhana, a small cafe, acted as a central gathering point for cars offloading goods and carriers waiting for work. It was also the perfect place to warm up over tea and samsa.

This woman waited in the warmth of her car while workers allocated and organized its contents.

An old woman stands near a car full of goods, ready to load some into trash bags.

Most of the people interested in carrying items across the border appeared to be middle-aged or older women.

There were men who made themselves available to transport goods as well. Some people said they only stick around for a few hours, while others said they usually stay until 9pm.

2 replies on “Crossing borders”

  1. The border guards or either government don’t care this is going on? I’m surprised they don’t try to crack down on it. Or maybe the guards are “on the take” as well?

    1. The border guards are definitely getting a cut of it, and I’m sure the government would be more concerned about the loss of revenue if there weren’t so many other things they had to deal with as well.

Comments are closed.