Crowds and fights in the queues in front of Western Union offices in Turkmenistan

Residents of Turkmenistan continue to experience serious problems due to the restrictions for foreign currency conversion and overseas money transfers.

Correspondents of Chronicles of Turkmenistan report that the banks are still blocking VISA cards of holders overseas. In a telephone conversation the bank call centre staff confirm that they are aware of mass blocking and ask for patience until the problem is solved. The banks fail to provide any explanation of the problem or to inform how long it will take to get the issue resolved.

Moreover, Turkmen residents crowd around those bank offices which provide Western Union money transfer services.

In order to use these services, a customer needs to get a ticket indicating the date a person can come to the bank and make a transfer. Tickets are now being distributed for August and September.

Obtaining a customer identification ticket is also quite a challenge. Queues in front of WU offices are formed from early in the morning at rear bank entrances. People try to organize themselves, and to respect the line by making waiting lists, but they do not always succeed. Often queues turns into a disorganized crowd where fights break out.

It is possible to get, or, more likely, to buy a ticket bypassing the queue from dealers but this will cost 300 manats (~$21,5 using the black market rate).

After obtaining the ticket, people are confronted with another problem: a maximum of $500 a month can be officially transferred but in real life only $100-300 are accepted for a money transfer in Ashgabat, in rare instances up to $400. To transfer the remainder, customers have to queue to get another ticket.

On a mandatory basis police squadrons keep vigil at the bank offices to break up fights and make sure nobody takes photos or video footage of the queue.

Often this results in serious and tragicomical situations. People bend fences and break glass windows to bypass the queue and get out of the bank covered with blood but with a ticket and a smile on their faces.

For instance, in February an elderly woman was squeezed by the crowd storming the bank and police officers did not respond to her cries for help. She kept her wits, raised her cell phone above her head. After spotting this, the police officers immediately removed her from the crowd and dragged her to a police car, accusing her of taking photos with the intention of handing over the material to foreign media outlets. The woman had to explain repeatedly that she had tried to attract the attention of police officers in this way in order not to be smashed by the crowd.

It should be mentioned that Western Union and VISA give assurances that no restrictions have been imposed by them and that it is the local banks which bear the responsibility for this situation.

Source: Chronicles of Turkmenistan