Uzbekistan: Homeless Swept Out of Capital in Preparation for Independence Anniversary
In preparation for the 20th anniversary of Uzbekistan's independence, to be celebrated September 1, authorities have been furiously cleaning out any "undesirables" from the capital of Tashkent. Months ago, under the rubric of urban renewal, more than a thousand small businesses were destroyed, reportedly without compensation, and numerous people have lost their homes, EurasiaNet reported. Police are also capturing and destroying stray cats and dogs.
Earlier this month, according to a report from the BBC's Uzbekistan Service, police began rounding up homeless people and expelling them from the city in a propagandistic effort to make the capital look pristine. The need for high security is also invoked, although as the independent news site uznews.net reports, some homeless have been around for years and cared for by shelters or local residents.
Police are checking documents and anyone found without a mandatory resident permit is subject to detention and removal. Those detained are taken to a special Center for Detention and Assignment of Vagrants and put on buses home. While the Soviet Union collapsed 20 years ago, independent Uzbekistan still retains the Soviet-era system of propiska, or residential registration.
Despite these restrictions, every year, an estimated one million Uzbeks come to Tashkent in search of work, says the BBC. Abdurakhmon Tashanov, a journalist and human rights advocate, says that despite official efforts to stop the migrant flow, people keep coming to Tashkent because there is no work and poor social services in rural areas. Without permits, they are vulnerable to abusive police who often collect bribes to let them stay, subject or to corrupt officials who can extract as much as $5,000 on the black market to issue a residence permit.
The expulsion is particularly unjust because in January, Tashkent authorities suspended their usual practice and permitted a six-month temporary registration period for those coming from the provinces to the capital. Perhaps they were willing to get low-paid day-laborers to help with all the construction projects in preparation for the anniversary, but now they want them gone.
Police admit that expelling people back to rural areas is not a long-term solution. In July, the parliament even debated a draft law that would supposedly provide new opportunities for provincial job-seekers to obtain temporary permits and access to medical care and education. Currently, only those who manage to marry someone in Tashkent or buy an apartment can obtain the permit.
Tashkent authorities are also invoking more Soviet nostalgia by suddenly dumping eggs at half price on all the markets, causing long lines to form with a limit of one batch per customer, uznews.net reports. The eggs were reportedly delivered from Samarkand, where residents there are facing shortages and high prices now.
Some patriotic Uzbeks are currently trying to get the Twitter hashtag "uzb20" to hit the top trending topics by September 1.