Since the beginning of October, more than 30,000 residents of the Ferghana, Namangan and Surkhandarya regions have been sent by train to collect cotton in the western and northern regions of Uzbekistan. Cotton squads, consisting of unemployed residents, as well as employees of state organizations, went to work in the fields of the Khorezm and Jizzakh regions and to the Republic of Karakalpakstan. This is the first time that such a large-scale mobilization of cotton pickers has been observed with the use of trains to cover wide geographical distances .
A community activist in the Boysun district of the Surkhandarya region, who was obliged to participate in the mobilization of local residents, wrote a letter to Radio Ozodlik explaining how people are being sent to other areas by force:
“Yesterday and today people were sent from the railway station in the Boysun District to work in the Kashkadarya region. The district hokim (governor), Uktam Turaev, forces the mahalla (community) chairmen to find and send between 15 and 40 people. Yesterday two chairmen of mahalla committees, “Bibishirin” and “Machai”, were beaten by the hokim right there at the station, saying, ‘Why did you not bring people to send’? The hokim locked several heads of organizations in a police car in the railway tunnel, saying that they had brought only a few people”.
Residents of the Denau and Sariasiy districts of the Surkhandarya region have also been forced to collect cotton in the Kashkadarya region.
The head of one of the state organizations in the Denau district, who asked not to be named, said that their organization had sent several people:
“Four of our people left, and they (local officials) say, give one more. They say that this is an order from the state, that whoever does not go, will lose his job. In other years, there was no way that people were taken to the fields by trains. This happened only this year.”
According to an employee of one of the organizations of the city of Fergana, they were given a condition: either to go to pick cotton, or lose your job:
“Ten of us left for Karakalpakstan. The management told them that if they wanted to keep their jobs they had to collect cotton for 20 days. After they reached the place, I talked to them and they told me that they had to rent accommodation from local residents at their own expense and pay 5,000 soums a day (0,60 USD). There’s no roof over your head, no hot food. They buy water at their own expense. They call us and ask us to send money.”
An official working at the railway station in the city of Ferghana confirmed that “assistants” from Ferghana were sent to the Republic of Karakalpakstan and Syrdarya region to pick cotton in the period October 6-10:
“Among these “assistants” are those who go there voluntarily and there are those who are forcibly sent by their organizations. He added that employees were given 500,000 soums as an “incentive.”
“This undertaking was organized on the orders of the Prime Minister of Uzbekistan, Abdulla Aripov”
A source of Radio Ozodlik, who belongs to the Cabinet of Ministers of Uzbekistan, said that over the past two weeks 16,400 cotton pickers had been sent by train from the Ferghana region, 1,900 from Namangan and 14,900 from the Surkhandarya region to the Karakalpakstan, Khorezm and Jizzakh regions.
“This undertaking was organized on the orders of the Prime Minister of Uzbekistan, Abdulla Aripov. From the Fergana Valley, where a large number of people live, and also from the Surkhandarya region, where the collection of cotton was almost over, deployments of cotton pickers, made up of unemployed residents as well as employees of organizations, were sent out. These “helpers” were transported on special trains to these areas over several days. There were no extraordinary incidents along the way. All of them have reached the right place and are gathering cotton”, said the source in the Uzbek government.
October 11, 2017