DUSHANBE: Tajikistan on Tuesday said it had successfully repatriated more than 100 students who had been studying illegally in Egypt as part of a government drive to limit the influence of foreign religious schools.
The students, who had been studying at Cairo’s prestigious Al-Azhar University, were sent packing on Monday after Dushanbe reached out to Cairo to ask for their return, a spokesman for the government’s religious affairs committee told AFP.
"On Monday… Tajik Airlines returned about 134 young Tajiks to the country from Egypt, where they were studying," he said.
Negotiations with Egypt for the return of the students, whom the official said had traveled via Russia and other unnamed countries without the necessary government permission to study abroad, began earlier this autumn.
Al-Azhar is the leading Sunni Muslim university and the oldest Islamic seat of learning.
Tajikistan President Emomali Rakhmon earlier this year blamed foreign madrassas for radicalizing his impoverished country’s youth and called on parents not to send their children abroad to study.
A majority-Muslim country and the poorest state to emerge from the collapse of the Soviet Union nearly two decades ago, Tajikistan has been wracked over the last three months by violence blamed on Islamist militants.
Dushanbe has said the incidents — including a suicide car bombing and a devastating attack on a military convoy that killed at least 28 soldiers — were plotted and carried out by Al-Qaeda-linked militants operating out of Afghanistan.
Tajikistan, where a civil war between Islamist forces and backers of Rakhmon’s secular government killed tens of thousands following the collapse of the Soviet Union, shares a porous 1,300-kilometer (800-mile) border with Afghanistan.
As many as 1,000 Tajik students remain at Al-Azhar, the official said, of whom only a handful are there legally. The government is currently negotiating their return as well.