option for people hoping to earn a living in Russia, but they have little 
protection from unscrupulous tour organisers.  By Bakhtior Valiev, Rano 
Babajanova and Akmali Kadam in Khujand 

REAPING AN UNRIPE HARVEST IN UZBEKISTAN  Cumbersome state planning and a 
shortage of harvesting equipment means wheat is being gathered in before it is 
ready, just to meet deadlines.  By IWPR staff in Central Asia 


entries to the Kurt Schork Awards in International Journalism is just two weeks 
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Taking the bus is the cheapest option for people hoping to earn a living in 
Russia, but they have little protection from unscrupulous tour organisers. 

By Bakhtior Valiev, Rano Babajanova and Akmali Kadam in Khujand 

Hard-up Tajik labour migrants who choose to travel all the way to Russia by bus 
are finding that the apparent saving is a false economy. Many report being 
tricked into parting with money for buses that never materialise and travel 
documents that turn out to have been forged.

The bus journey to Russia from Tajikistan takes several days and is fraught 
with difficulties, but at approximately 170 US dollars - around half the price 
of a plane ticket - many of the thousands of people going to Russia for 
seasonal work each year are choosing this option.

Depending on the time of year and how the migrants are counted, there are 
anything between 400,000 and a million or more Tajik nationals working in 
Russia. Many work on building sites or do other manual work, especially after 
the Russian authorities banned non-nationals from working as market traders 
earlier this year. The remittances they send home are a mainstay of 
Tajikistan’s economy.

Soghd region in the north of Tajikistan has 54 firms which transport migrant 
workers by bus or even truck. For a fee, private agencies will not only 
organise the bus trip but also help arrange the necessary travel documents. The 
buses run from the Soghd region through Uzbekistan or Kyrgyzstan and then on 
via Kazakstan to Russia.

Many of the workers have jobs already waiting for them, fixed up by friends or 
relations already in Russia.

Tajik nationals do not require a visa to enter Russia, although they must carry 
an immigration card, issued free at border and customs checkpoints. 

But some unscrupulous organisers try to cut costs by transporting workers to 
Russia by illegal routes. They also provide them with fake immigration cards, 
taking advantage of the fact that many do not speak Russian and have no idea 
what they are signing.


Three hundred migrant workers from Tajikistan were caught out by such a company 
in April this year, when they were deported from Kazakstan on their way to 
Russia by bus.

Unknown to them, they were given fake ID cards by guide who organised their 
journey to the Russian border. They were detained by the Kazak authorities for 
illegally entering that country after police stopped their bus and ran checks 
on their ID papers.

“The bus conductor and driver clearly decided to save money and avoid paying 
customs duties, so they took a back route [across the Kazak-Russian border],” 
commented a businessman in Khujand, who did not want to be named. “Some of them 
do that to avoid paying customs fees on goods they are taking to Russia.”

Abdusattor, from the village of Chilgazi in the Isfara district of Soghd, was 
one of the group of 300. He had tried to fly to Siberia, but was unable to find 
a convenient flight.

“I originally wanted to travel to Novosibirsk by plane, but at the ticket 
office, I was told that there were no tickets on this route until May 20,” he 

Abdusattor turned down the ticket office staff’s offer to arrange an earlier 
flight through a middleman - and for extra cash – and decided to take the bus 
instead. He sold everything he could to pay for the trip.

A friend recommended an agent in Khujand, the administrative centre of Soghd 
region, whom Abdusattor paid the equivalent of 150 US dollars to arrange the 
trip, believing his assurances that the travel documentation would be in order. 

But near Kazakstan’s northern border with Russia, border guards at Pavlodar 
detained the whole group. 

“Because of the irresponsibility of our guide… all 300 labour migrants were 
deported,” said Abdusattor, who is now barred from entering Kazakstan for the 
next five years.

The organiser had promised the trip would be like “a fairytale”, but this 
proved far from the truth.

“As soon as you leave the country, people start treating you like a stray dog. 
The poor passengers get to the border with Russia by changing from one bus to 
another. Furthermore, they have to cross huge fields and steppe land on foot 
with large, heavy packs,” said Abdusattor.


In Khujand, IWPR interviewed travellers about to set off on the long trip to 
Perm, a Russian city in the Urals mountains. The trip organisers had assured 
them that they would be allowed into Russia with no problems, but many of the 
bus’s passengers appeared uncertain what travel documents they needed. 

Some thought they should have Russian immigration papers, but did not know how 
to get them. Abduvoris Eshmatov and Yokubjon Okhunzod said they had heard they 
would need immigration cards for Russia, but had no idea what they should look 

At 19, Halim Uzganov was a newcomer to life as a migrant worker, but said he 
had little choice as he had no opportunities to pursue further education or 
find employment at home.

“I am going to Russia for the first time, to get a job in Perm. I don’t know 
what difficulties I’ll face on the journey. But I don’t have any other 
options,” he said. “I don’t know what barriers the Uzbek, Kazak or Russian 
border guards and customs officers will create for me, but I have to go to earn 

Hojiboy Tojiboev was older and had worked in Tajikistan, but he too felt he had 
to take the risk and go to Russia. 

“I’m a teacher, but the [monthly] salary for that profession in Tajikistan is 
not enough to feed my family for two days. So I’ve had to force myself to go on 
this journey to look for work,” he said.

One man, who gave his first name as Izzatullo, was among the many who had opted 
for the bus to save money. “When spring comes, I face a cash crisis. I’ve been 
through a lot of hardships, and a plane ticket costs 300 [US] dollars while the 
bus only costs… half that amount,” he said.

The more experienced travellers had their own horror stories to tell. 

Umar Irismatov, said he had had problems several on previous bus journeys. On 
one occasion, he and 50 others got as far as Uzbekistan travelling in minivans, 
where they were supposed to get on a bigger bus to Russia. But Uzbek policemen 
stopped them, carried out a strip search - “the most insulting thing of all”, 
said Irismatov – and ordered them to return to Tajikistan.

“They stamped our passports and gave us 24 hours to go home. Most of the men 
did go back and then had to get their [Tajik] passports changed,” he recalled. 
But he and about 30 others managed to sneak into Kazakstan, where they caught a 
train to Russia.

“Of course, after these humiliations and difficulties I want to take the train, 
but that would take a month; you need to book the ticket a month before the 
train leaves. The work in Russia won’t wait for us, and my family is hungry,” 
he said.


Ayubjon Latipov is one of many people who say they have been tricked out of 
their money by dishonest middlemen. 

Friends put him in touch with a man who showed him identification that appeared 
to prove he worked for a local travel agency which specialises in trips to 
Tyumen, a city in western Siberia. The man told Latipov and a group of others 
that all they had to do was sign contracts and they would be taken to Russia 
both safely and legally.

“When we paid for the journey, we took crowded minibuses through the Batken 
region [southern Kyrgyzstan, near Tajikistan], and he was supposed to meet us 
with a bus on the [Kyrgyzstan-]Kazakstan border. When we arrived at the 
appointed place, he had vanished with the money,” said. Latipov. 

It soon transpired that the man was a known fraudster. “At the bus station, 
they [the travel agency] told us that no such employee worked for them, but 
that they knew the man and would hand him over to the authorities if he 
returned to the country,” he said.

Shukhrat Ahmedov, the head of the migration service in Soghd’s regional police 
department, said dishonest agents and those who tried to cut corners by 
breaking the rules were the major source of problems for migrants going by bus.

Workers can end up being arrested for crossing the border illegally in 
neighbouring states when the travel operators take them over international 
borders along back roads, simply to avoid customs procedures, he explained. 

The migrants are forced to trust their drivers and guides, who encourage them 
to keep quiet when they approach the border.

“When they cross the border, the bus conductors forbid passengers from talking 
about the real aims of their visit. The passengers have absolutely no rights. 
How should they know where to get immigration cards and how to tell fake cards 
from real ones? They are given the cards and they fill them out,” said Ahmedov.

Bus drivers argue in their defence that submitting to border controls can be a 
tortuous process. Frontier guards go over their vehicles, looking under the 
upholstery and even in the fuel tank, adding long delays to the journey. 

“It is especially difficult to get past Uzbek customs at Oibek checkpoint,”said 
one driver, Askarali, referring to a crossing point on the Tajik-Uzbek border. 
“Last time when we were going to Moscow we waited there for 12 hours.” 

One reason for these checks is to stop trafficking of illegal narcotics - 
Central Asia is a major export route for Afghan heroin, whose production is 
rising year by year.


At the end of April, the Soghd regional police ordered local media not to carry 
advertisements from organisations offering to arrange work trips to Russia.

“These [agents] do not have appropriate licenses,” a source at the police 
department told IWPR. “For this reason, from now on it will be prohibited to 
publish such advertisements without the prior permission of the police 
migration service.”

Some counselling services are available to inform prospective migrants of their 
rights and the pitfalls that may await them. Zainura Kakharova works as a 
lawyer at the Regional Information Resource Centre, which provides information 
on Russia’s immigration and residents regulations in Russian, Tajik and Uzbek 
and English.

“The migrant workers don’t even know Russian, let alone the country’s laws,” 
she said 

Some workers complain that advice centres fail to provide information in Tajik 
– or at least that is what the travel agents tell them.

“I’have heard about these centres that provide assistance. But the bus trip 
organisors said these centres were set up by foreign organisations and provide 
information only in Russian and English, which I don’t understand,” said 
Nosirjon Ahmadov from the northern town of Zafarabad.

With little knowledge of their rights, very few people try to prosecute bogus 
travel organisations. However, one man did seek and win compensation in a case.

The case was filed in Khujand last year by a man who said he had been promised 
a job in Russia. When he got there, he found Russian citizenship was a 
requirement for the position. On his journey, he was also robbed and beaten. 

According to judge Anvarjon Temurov who presided over the case, “He ended up 
wandering around Russian villages. The same [travel] organisation eventually 
brought him home. But he got frostbite in Russia and his legs had to be 
amputated when he returned to Khujand,” he said.

The court upheld the plaintiff’s case and in January 2007 awarded him damages 
of 8,000 somoni, or 2,326 dollars.

There are, however, many middlemen and travel agencies that do provide a good – 
and legal - service. Several representatives of such firms said they guaranteed 
a safe journey and assistance with arranging travel and immigration documents.

Azizmamad Ashurov, who lives in Khujand, organises transport to Moscow, and 
says he even allows travellers to pay for the trip later.

“A lot of people who come to me don’t have the money for the trip. I give them 
a loan, and when they earn some money they pay me back,” he said.


The potential for things to go wrong has put some travellers off taking the bus 

Rustam Qadyrov of Khujand has decided that this method of travel is a false 

“Initially it did seem cheaper, but it can actually end up more expensive than 
travelling by plane. It’s costly and dispiriting. You sit in the bus for eight 
or ten days instead of the three days they promised it would take,” he said.

Akram, a resident of Bobojongafur district, also in Soghd, has been travelling 
to Russia for ten years, but gave up taking the bus a long time ago.

“At the beginning I thought the cheapest way to get to Russia was by bus,” he 
said. “Once, because of delays on the border, the journey took eight days. My 
legs swelled up during this time. After that nightmare, I started travelling by 

But with so many Tajiks desperate to reach Russia, shady companies are likely 
to stay in business for some time to come, even if they are no longer allowed 
to advertise. 

Migrant workers in Soghd told IWPR that the individual responsible for the 
fiasco in which 300 workers were sent back from Kazakstan continues to arrange 
travel to Russia. He is said to have repaid the group’s travel expenses and 
none of them ever reported him to the police.

At the bus station in Khujand, Lutfiddin Boboev waited with the others hoping 
to make it to Perm – even though he was only too aware of what might befall 

“I’ve seen with my own eyes the way that Tajik migrants crossing the border are 
treated, and I was dismayed at my own lack of rights. No one can protect us,” 
he said. 

“I am still defenceless, but there’s no other choice.” 

Bakhtior Valiev, Rano Babajanova and Akmali Kadam are IWPR contributors in 


Cumbersome state planning and a shortage of harvesting equipment means wheat is 
being gathered in before it is ready, just to meet deadlines.

By IWPR staff in Central Asia 

Farmers in Uzbekistan are angry that due to pressure to meet state targets, as 
well as a shortage of farm machinery, officials are forcing them to gather the 
wheat crop before it has fully ripened.

On June 1, the wheat harvesting season began in Uzbekistan with local 
authorities dispatching combine harvesters to gather in the crop.

With over 120,000 farms in the country, agriculture plays an important role in 
the Uzbek economy and contributes about one third of gross domestic product.

Farmers who lease their land from the state are still subject to Soviet-style 
controls and production quotas for the staple wheat and the more profitable 

In 2006, around six million tonnes of wheat were harvested and delivered to the 
state. According to forecasts from official media, the current harvest will be 
bigger than last year’s, but there is no mention of the fact that a proportion 
of the grain will be poor quality because the ears have been cut before they 
are ripe.

Local authorities are under intense pressure to meet large crop quotas, and if 
they fail, then they can be reprimanded by central government and governors can 
even lose their jobs.

There is a shortage of both combine harvesters and the fuel to run them, so the 
regional authorities work to tight schedules, deciding when the crops should 
harvested according to which areas have the most ripened wheat at any given 

The harvesters are then sent out to the fields, each one accompanied by three 
policemen and a fireman to make sure the operation goes smoothly and the 
harvested crop is not stolen or sold privately by the farmer.

The few combine harvesters available must remain in operation continuously 
during the harvest season to get round all the country’s farms. 

Agricultural scientists say the tight schedule, combined with pressure on local 
authorities to be the first to meet government targets for grain production, 
means crops are regularly harvested before they have fully ripened.

The nature of irrigation systems in this largely arid country means that some 
patches of crops will get more water than others and will therefore ripen 

“The combines are forced to gather the entire harvest in one area and only move 
on to other places afterwards… The second cause is that the regions compete to 
be the first to report that the state plan has been fulfilled,” said an 
agricultural expert in Bukhara, a city in western Uzbekistan.

Unripe crops have little value and while the state-monopoly purchasing centres 
are supposed to buy all the grain that farmers deliver, many of them reject 
unripe wheat or pay a lower price for it.

The urge to get harvesting over as quickly as possible is not just resulting in 
low-quality grain, but is not even a guarantee that a region like Bukhara will 
meet its production targets.

Bukhara’s Karaulbazar district, a flat, semidesert zone, is one of the 
country’s biggest wheat-producing areas. But by all accounts the crop is 
disappointing after a rush to bring it in. The harvesters have moved on to 
Shafirkan district, where unripe wheat is being cut along with the ripe.

One farmer from the Karaulbazar district, a sunburnt man of 50 in a cap turned 
grey from dust, said he found it frustrating to watch unripe wheat being cut, 
but realised that he needed the combine and that it would not be returning at a 
later date.

“If it weren’t for the combine, who would gather the crop – the people?” he 
said. “I have a large number of hectares of land under wheat. When a combine 
enters the field, it can’t separate the ripe from the unripe. This year, the 
same thing will happen,” he said.

Three years ago, this farmer came to the attention of the local authorities 
when he refused to allow harvesting to take place on his land. His attempt to 
delay the harvest lasted only a week. 

“No, I didn’t let the combines in, because my wheat was not ripe. But the 
result was the same – the harvest was gathered anyway,” he said. 

Farmers struggle to find a use for the unripe wheat they are left with, and 
either use it to feed animals or make poor quality bread out of it. They dry 
out the grains and try to ripen them a little more by spreading them out on the 

“It’s very hard to sell this grain. Either the animals will eat it, or it will 
rot in the barn,” said one local farmer.

Several years ago, farmers in Karaulbazar district interviewed by RFE/RL radio 
spoke about how unhappy they were with the restrictive rules they had to abide 
by for the harvest. That would be impossible now – since the Andijan violence 
of 2005, the Uzbek government has clamped down even further on attempts to 
express dissent. 

“We’ve been forbidden to say we’re unhappy that grain is being cut from our 
fields before it ripens,” said another farmer from the district, who said he 
feared being called in by Uzbekistan feared National Security Service. “They 
control everything in the country now - even my dissatisfaction about my own 

The parcelling out of land from the old Soviet collective farms theoretically 
gave the new private farmers more control over their lives. But the state’s 
retention of ownership of the land and the continuation of the “state order” 
system means the farmers remain dependent on the government.

“If this field really was mine and I didn’t have to hand the wheat over to the 
state, I would be a millionaire now, not poor and bankrupt,” said one man. 

This system is unlikely to change, but the agricultural expert interviewed for 
this story offered one practical solution – the authorities should acquire more 
agricultural machinery for the centralised pools they lend out to farmers. The 
shortage of combine harvesters is, he argues, the main reason why wheat is 
reaped before it is ready.

“The equipment is good, but there isn’t enough of it to cover the entire 
country, so they take desperate measures to gather in all the wheat - ripe or 
unripe - and avoid losing the harvest,” he said.

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REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA provides the international community with a unique 
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