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Uzbek Exodus Creating Bribery Bonanza

An Uzbek man surveys his destroyed home in the Cheremushki neighborhood of Osh in late July. (Photo: David Trilling)

Tens of thousands of Uzbeks, seeking relief from lingering insecurity, are leaving southern Kyrgyzstan. Some unscrupulous officials are profiting from the Uzbek exodus by making it bureaucratically difficult, and therefore expensive, to leave.

Almost two months after inter-ethnic rioting left hundreds dead and thousands homeless, a sense of stability remains elusive in southern Kyrgyzstan. In thoroughly documented reports, human rights groups and foreign diplomats have found that predominantly ethnic Kyrgyz security forces are unfairly harassing Uzbeks. [For background see EursaiaNet’s archive]. “The reasons why Uzbeks are leaving the country are obvious. They feel unsafe not only in the South, but in other parts of Kyrgyzstan as well. They see only one way out: leaving,” said Erik Iriskulbekov, a Bishkek-based human rights lawyer who is investigating the causes and the effects of the June violence. [For background see EurasiaNet’s archive].

The violence and arson left many without documents, Iriskulbekov noted. “When they appeal to the authorities to get new ones, they face deliberate obstacles,” he added. “Uzbeks have zero trust in the government.”

Obtaining proper exit documents is the latest hassle that Uzbeks have to contend with. Kyrgyz and other minorities are also leaving, but observers say it is Uzbeks who are being unfairly targeted.

“My wife and I are planning to leave as soon as we get our documents ready,” said Obid, a 29-year-old ethnic Uzbek from Osh. Two of his siblings have already left with their children. Like all ethnic Uzbek sources for this story, Obid refused to provide his last name, citing concern for his safety. But he described a Byzantine bureaucratic process that all aspiring émigrés must negotiate before being able to leave the country.

De-registering as a resident of Kyrgyzstan is essential for families heading to Russia, where a similar registration system governs access to basic social services, including education and health care. The process involves not only acquiring an international passport, but also a certificate affirming that the emigrant is not wanted by the Kyrgyz police, a document certifying he or she does not have a criminal record, and police-issued IDs for children. At each step, officials are asking for bribes and threaten to delay the process, Obid said.

Males also need a paper from the local enlistment office certifying that they have completed their military service. Making the process even harder, on July 27, Osh Mayor Melisbek Myrzakmatov told police to start fingerprinting those wishing to leave, adding one more layer to a tiresome process. Some activists contend that the fingerprinting directive is illegal. “The only people who must give their fingerprints are those who are under investigation. … All of the other activities with fingerprints are absolutely illegal in this country,” Iriskulbekov said.

Some Uzbeks complain that it takes over a month to complete all the required departure paperwork. “If you want your set of documents within a day, you have to find the right person […] but you have to pay a considerable amount of money,” a government employee in Osh told EurasiaNet.org on condition of anonymity. Fees can run into the hundreds of dollars per person. Those who cannot pay must wait.

Malika, who is trying to leave for Russia with her husband and two young children, says she is spending all of her time gathering documents. Some Kyrgyz authorities may be trying to block the de-registration process, she suspects, as their communities would then receive less state social support.

“There have been lots of rumors that the Kyrgyz authorities have stopped allowing people to de-register since every day hundreds of people obtain such de-registration documents to leave the country,” Malika, an Uzbek, said. “We have started panicking and looking for illegal ways to cross the border [because] all these certificates have become much too expensive.”

The “cost” of some documents has increased by 500 percent, Osh residents complain. “Everybody knows this is done simply to force people to pay bribes,” said a Kyrgyz lawyer in Osh.

Along with the mayor’s protests against central government directives and other forms of insubordination, the document situation is alarming international and domestic observers. Many now say southern Kyrgyzstan is slipping away from Bishkek’s hold, and describe local rulers as “warlords.”

“If [police] see Uzbeks in the car, they are stopped, searched, and inspected,” Iriskulbekov, the human rights lawyer, said. “There are not equal rules for everyone.”

“Bishkek doesn’t have a control over anything now. It says so, but the reality is far from that at the moment,” he continued, saying southern leaders have declared “de facto” independence.

Fears that violence will flare again in the South are not the only motivation prompting many to leave. Osh Mayor Myrzakmatov is pressing ahead with plans to build “modern” high-rise apartments and government buildings in mainly Uzbek neighborhoods that were destroyed during the June violence. The urban renewal plans would displace families that have lived in central Osh for generations. “I love this country,” said Obid. “But now I have to start my life anew. My country does not want me anymore just because I am an ethnic Uzbek.” [For background see EurasiaNet’s archive].

Uzbek Exodus Creating Bribery Bonanza

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