Menial workers from Uzbekistan sold one of their group to slave-masters to earn their own way home
In early spring, four young men from the Samarkand region decided to travel to Russia to earn their families' living. They had heard somewhere that there were special coaches running to Russia, raised the sum they were told would suffice to pay their fare, and turned up at the bus stop.
"What we had raised was not enough after all," said Azamat, one of them. "Coach driver said we owed him and would settle the debt in Moscow. We could only agree, and the bus started rolling."
"When we were travelling across Kazakhstan, the coach was stopped by local gangs on several occasions. The guys just entered and commandeered whatever took their fancy," Azamat said.
"We could do nothing, not even protest because they could just kick the protester out of the coach, batter him, or even murder him, and leave the body right there in the steppes," Azamat's brother Hairullo added.
The road to Moscow took several days and nights. The coach finally made it and this was where the four young Uzbeks discovered what a real nightmare was. The driver beckoned some acquaintance of his, pointed at the four young men, and explained that he owed them and that they were for sale.
"We were utterly shocked to hear it," Azamat said. "The driver's acquaintance offered 5,000 Russian rubles for every "head". The driver got his money and wished us luck and we never saw him again. Our new master sold us again the following day."
The Korean they were sold to was building a mansion in Moscow outskirts. The young Uzbeks spent the next four months working for him and eventually asked for at least a part of what they had earned and for several days' leave to visit their families in Uzbekistan.
The Korean said they had not earned anything yet, that he owned them and therefore could leave them without pay altogether.
When it finally dawned on them what they had gotten themselves into, the young men burst into tears. The master took pity on them...
"He gave us 1,000 rubles each and took us to the Kazan Railroad Station," Hairullo said. "He told us to come back in a month. We said he would, but he probably knew better than to expect us back..."
The young Uzbeks were approached by a policeman, taken to a quiet spot far from the crowds, and told to empty their pockets. The man took the money and told the Uzbeks to "get the hell out of here" if they knew what was good for them. The pleas to leave them at least something to buy tickets with were ignored.
That was when the young men met Gulnara-apa, a kind woman travelling back to Uzbekistan who just could not pass them by.
"I was going home too," Gulnara-apa said. "I saw these guys at the railroad station. They kept approaching the Uzbeks going to Tashkent and asking for help. Nobody would help them. I was practically without money myself but I just could not board the train and leave them..."
Several men, presumably Tajiks, approached the four young Uzbeks then.
"They said they could give us money for one of us," Gulnara-apa said. "I appealed to them as Moslems, I said how they could be suggesting it... They said it was the only way out for these young men because if they all stayed, they all would be sold."
One of the young men volunteered. "He said he would stay on the condition that we would raise the money somehow when we made it home and come for him," Hairullo said.
"They paid 10,000 rubles or something like that for the guy," Gulnara-apa continued. "In fact, they took 50% of the sum for "helping us out" as they put it and sold us four tickets for 4,000 rubles. These youngsters were left with but 1,000 rubles."
Gulnara-apa advised the young men to let her have the money until they made it back to Tashkent. They fortunately agreed. Their compartment was raided on at least several occasions. Men forced their way in and demanded money. When told that there was no money to be had there, they checked the young Uzbeks' pockets and beat them in frustration after that.
When the train finally reached Tashkent, the three young men were met by the local police. Upon checking their papers and discovering that they were from the Samarkand region, the policemen told the young men to follow them to police station. That was when Gulnara-apa decided that enough was enough. She approached the policemen and said she was calling her relative, that her relative was from the National Security Service (UzNSS), and that he would certainly show them their place in the greater scheme of things. The mere mention of the abbreviation instills fear in ordinary Uzbeks and in the police...
"When we were walking to my place, policemen stopped us more than once demanding to be shown a permit for presence in Tashkent," Gulnara-apa said. "Are there any such permits?"
Gulnara-apa's neighbor paid for coach tickets to Samarkand. Leaving Tashkent, the young men said they did not know what they were going to tell the family of their friend left in Moscow...