Forced to Work on Cotton Fields, Andijan People Pay their Own Way Home


Thousands of workers forcibly sent to harvest cotton in the Tashkent and Syrdarya regions on the orders of the hokim of the Andijan region, Shukhratbek Abdurakhmanov, have now had to return home at their own expense. The mahalla chairmen have been asking local residents to collect money to bring the cotton pickers back to Andijan.

The Head of Andijan has Failed again to Fulfill Promises

The khokim (head of the district administration) of the Andijan region of Uzbekistan, Shukhratbek Abdurakhmanov, instructed mahalla chairmen to return several thousand cotton pickers, who, two weeks ago, were forcibly sent by train to collect cotton in the Tashkent and Syrdarya regions.

In an unrecorded conversation with a reporter from Radio Ozodlik, the chairman of one of the mahallas in the city of Andijan said that the regional khokim promised people that the administration would pay for the cotton pickers’ transport costs from the fields, located in remote regions. However, two weeks later, the head of the oblast reneged on his promise, according to the chairman.

-“Uzbeks have a saying: My work is done, my donkey crossed the mud. Initially, the administration of the region asked us, the chairmen of the mahallas, to find people available to collect cotton in other regions. We found them, and they were sent by train, at their own expense, to the Tashkent and Syrdarya regions. And now the local authorities have instructed us to bring them back home, again at their own expense. We could not object to his decision, and therefore gathered our supporters in the mahalla and asked for help. Those who agreed, collected money to return the cotton pickers back to Andijan. We buy gas and fuel for local people who have cars, so that they can go to the Tashkent and Syrdarya regions and bring our people back to Andijan”, said the chairman of one of the mahallas in the city of Andijan to our radio.

“For Fifteen Days we Gathered Cotton Without even Looking Up”

According to one of our sources who gathered cotton in the Pskent district of the Tash region, the conditions for collecting cotton this year were more difficult than ever before:

“As soon as we left the train, we were taken to the Pskent district. The first thing we saw was the sullen face of the farmer. He told us: ‘I do not need you, why did you come? Your arrival just means trouble’. Every day we walked 5-6 kilometers to reach the cotton field. The food was terrible. We collected cotton for so many days, but we have not been paid for our labor. 15 days later we returned home blackened, dirty, tired and sick. It’s good that our mahallas sent cars to pick us up, otherwise we would have had to wait for the train for several days”, the source said.

“Harassment by Police Officers”

Another collector of cotton from Andijan, who wished to remain anonymous, told Radio Ozodlik that police officers stopped the car which was carrying cotton pickers at the exit from Angren (Tashkent region) and that they held them for three hours because they didn’t have passports:

“On October 31, we hired a taxi driver, and were delighted at having finished our job in the cotton fields, and to be heading home. When we were leaving Angren, policemen stopped our car and began to demand our passports. When we were sent to Tash region by train, no one told us to take our documents with us. In the car there were four of us, and all of us were forced to get out and were questioned. We told the police: We are cotton pickers who have come to your area on behalf of the president. Look at how dirty our hands are from cotton picking. But they did not listen to us and harassed us for a long time, interrogating us for three hours. We almost didn’t make it home”, said the cotton picker from Andijan.

“Cotton Pickers still Waiting for the Arrival of the Train”

According to a mahalla activist from the Balykchy district of Andijan region, who asked to remain anonymous, some Andijan people who went to pick cotton in the Tashkent region still can’t return home:

“The chairmen of the mahallas in the Balykchy region were asked to find people to pick cotton in the Tash oblast. We found people and sent them by train to the Bukinsky district (Tashkent region). I got a call from the residents of our mahalla who had gone to pick cotton who asked for help to return home. They said that they were having problems with transportation. Some Andijan people are paying their transport costs from the fields out of their own pockets. And some are still in the Tash region waiting for the train to arrive”, the source said.

The Ozodlik reporter contacted the administration of the Andijan region to find out why cotton pickers are returning home from different regions at their own expense.

An unidentified employee of the regional administration, after listening to the question from our reporter, silently hung up the phone.

Ozodlik recently reported that more than ten thousand cotton pickers from the Andijan region, including hundreds of teachers and doctors, had been forcibly sent to pick cotton in Toytepa, Bukinsky and Chinazky districts of the Tashkent region since October 7. Within five days, the railway company “Uzbekistan Temir Yollari” brought Andijan collectors to the Tash region.

Earlier, collectors from the Fergana, Namangan and Surkhandarya regions of Uzbekistan were sent by train to collect cotton to the capital region.