WELCOME TO IWPR'S REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA, No. 498, June 25, 2007
TAJIK MIGRANTS FLEECED BY SHADY TRAVEL FIRMS 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
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
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TAJIK MIGRANTS FLEECED BY SHADY TRAVEL FIRMS
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
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.
SENT HOME FOR HAVING THE WRONG PAPERS
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 staffs 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 Kazakstans 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.
TRAVELLERS RECOGNISE THE RISKS
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
buss 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 dont know
what difficulties Ill face on the journey. But I dont have any other
options, he said. I dont 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.
Im a teacher, but the [monthly] salary for that profession in Tajikistan is
not enough to feed my family for two days. So Ive 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. Ive 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 wont wait for us, and my family is hungry,
FRAUDSTERS PICK ON THE UNWARY
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 Soghds 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.
LACK OF AWARENESS MAKES MIGRANTS EASY PREY
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
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 Russias immigration and residents regulations in Russian, Tajik and Uzbek
The migrant workers dont even know Russian, let alone the countrys laws,
Some workers complain that advice centres fail to provide information in Tajik
or at least that is what the travel agents tell them.
Ihave 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 dont 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 plaintiffs 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 dont have the money for the trip. I give them
a loan, and when they earn some money they pay me back, he said.
OTHER MEANS OF TRANSPORT CAN PROVE CHEAPER IN THE END
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. Its 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
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 groups 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
Ive 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,
I am still defenceless, but theres no other choice.
Bakhtior Valiev, Rano Babajanova and Akmali Kadam are IWPR contributors in
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
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 years, 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
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 countrys 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.
Bukharas Karaulbazar district, a flat, semidesert zone, is one of the
countrys 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
If it werent 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 cant 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 didnt 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
Its 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
Weve been forbidden to say were 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 states
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 didnt 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 isnt 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.
REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA provides the international community with a unique
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The service forms part of IWPR's Central Asia Project based in Almaty, Bishkek,
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