By Hasanboy Burhanov, founder of the political opposition movement Erkin O’zbekiston (Free Uzbekistan).
A report in English, distributed to the participants of the 23rd Conference of the Alliance against Trafficking in Persons organised by the OSCE Office of the Special Representative and Co-ordinator for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings.
Hofburg Congress Center Vienna (Austria) 18.04.2023
Uzbekistan has been and remains the biggest exporter of migrant workers in Central Asia. More than 5 million people are forced to find work far away from home to be able to sustain themselves and their families.
After the Russian invasion of Ukraine, tens of thousands migrant workers from Uzbekistan and other Centra Asian republics were sent to build defensive structures in the occupied territories of Ukraine. Their situation there equals slavery.
In Russia – in mosques and in diaspora communities, especially those with Central Asian roots, – one encounters examples of systematic propaganda, aimed to attract migrants from Central Asia to the war against Ukraine. In their propaganda aimed at Muslims, the Russian authorities have been persistently placing the war against Ukraine in the context of a religious conflict.
At the same time, the Mirziyoyev regime is silent and tries not to notice the provocative actions of the Russian authorities, as it fully supports the Russian aggression against Ukraine.
In January 2018, 52 people burned alive in a bus in Kazakhstan. All of them were Uzbek nationals travelling to Russia for work. The Uzbek authorities did not even declare nationwide mourning for the tragic deaths of their citizens. In fact, in the entire history of modern Uzbekistan, the country’s authorities have never declared national mourning, although there have been a number of occasions to do so. The only exception was the three-day mourning period following the death of President Islam Karimov, in September 2016.
I have highlighted this fact so that you can understand how contemptuous the Uzbek authorities are towards their people.
Forced labour is present in Uzbekistan. It is also noteworthy that twice a year, for two days, the country’s workers have to work for the state for free. Their four days’ wages are forcibly transferred to a special account of “Mahalla” Public Charitable Foundation of Uzbekistan. This forced labour is disguised as “khashar” (subbotnik, or voluntary service on a weekend). These vestiges of the Soviet past are still preserved in Uzbekistan.
It is also known that the Uzbek authorities continue to make extensive use of child labour in the cultivation and harvesting of cotton.
Given all the above mentioned facts, we demand that the Uzbek authorities stop lying to the world community. No reforms are happening in the present-day Uzbekistan! The high approval rating of the Mirziyoyev regime, shown by various surveys, is the result of the information war led by both Russian and Uzbek states.
Our recommendations to the participating States of the OSCE:
– to hold public parliamentary hearings on Uzbekistan, in the context of the Mirziyoyev regime’s assistance to Russia in attempt to circumvent international sanctions. From our side, we will be ready to provide a report on the matter, speak out publicly and answer questions from the participants and attendants of the hearings;
– to consider attracting labour migrants from Uzbekistan to the EU, UK, US and Canadian labour markets;
– to increase grant programmes and funding, in order to contain the Russian propaganda and disinformation campaign in the Central Asian region.
Thank you very much for your attention.
Photo by Robert Stokoe: