Uzbeks in Iran

by Nathan Hamm on 8/18/2005

Yesterday, a small group of Uzbek refugees in Iran protested outside of the Dutch, Italian, and German embassies demanding asylum in the west. RFE/RL published a follow-up story on the asylum-seekers today.

Alisher Saipov, an independent journalist from the Kyrgyz city of Osh, recently visited Iran and met with Uzbeks there. He told RFE/RL that there are some 90 Uzbeks from Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan living in the southeastern Iranian city of Zahedan, and several more in Mashhad and Tehran.

“They are very poor and desperate, their economic conditions are hard,” Saipov said. “Their houses are old and falling apart. Some of them have to beg for a living. Those with some skills and experience work as house painters, carpenters, or do other kind of work. Every man has three or four children. The women are housewives. The children don’t go to school.”

Their desperate situation aside, the reason they are unable to return to Uzbekistan is because they are accused of being terrorists. Some of the men do not deny having been involved with the IMU, but it seems that all of them hasten to add that they never participated in military actions.

The Uzbek government has had a rarely-discussed offer for some IMU members–an offer that I would assume is extended to those who were merely cooks and mechanics–to give up the fight and return to Uzbekistan without prosecution. Granted, those who have taken the offer are under heavy surveillance and must walk a fine line. That’s not to say that the refugees in Iran should take the offer (if it’s even on the table anymore or if it even applies to them). But I would be interested to know their reaction to being allowed to go back to Uzbekistan, because I have a feeling that they will have a very hard time receiving the same kind of treatment as the Andijon refugees granted asylum in the west.

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Nathan is the founder and Principal Analyst for Registan, which he launched in 2003. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uzbekistan 2000-2001 and received his MA in Central Asian Studies from the University of Washington in 2007. Since 2007, he has worked full-time as an analyst, consulting with private and government clients on Central Asian affairs, specializing in how socio-cultural and political factors shape risks and opportunities and how organizations can adjust their strategic and operational plans to account for these variables. More information on Registan's services can be found here, and Nathan can be contacted via Twitter or email.

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