Ismail Dadajanov: Being in an Uzbek jail is not my idea of fun
Political immigrants and refugees from Uzbekistan encounter numerous difficulties abroad. Their future is anything but clear. Unable to stand the predictably problematic period of adaptation, some of them succumb to official Tashkent's propaganda and return to Uzbekistan.
According to Aleksei Tolkachev, Ukrainian activist working with refugees from Andijan, almost 400 of them ended up in the capital of Ukraine after the notorious events of May 2005. "The Ukrainian state is not up to the expectations of the international community," Tolkachev told Voice of America. "Or to the expectations of refugees themselves, for that matter. These latter have been denied the necessary assistance."
It takes the UN Commissariat for Refugees literally years to process Uzbek refugees' applications for the status of refugees and transfer to a third country. Tolkachev says that specialized centers for refugees have never been established in Ukraine. Refugees from Andijan are left to their own devices, living under the constant threat of deportation. The Ukrainian authorities deported eleven refugees to Uzbekistan in February 2006.
As a matter of fact, even Uzbek dissenters encounter problems in Ukraine.
Immigrants from Uzbekistan staged their first protest action in front of the UN office in Kiev in late December 2005. Ismail Dadajanov, the head of the Democratic Forum of Uzbekistan, announced then that his fellow countrymen and he were even worse off in Ukraine than they had been in Uzbekistan because they couldn't count on decent wages or even the coveted status. Dadajanov said that refugees had despaired and were even "ready to accept deportation."
Ferghana.Ru news agency has already run a story on several dozens of the refugees granted the status of refugees and moved to the third countries who nevertheless chose to return to Uzbekistan. This "voluntary-compulsory" return to Uzbekistan has been in the focus of attention of Ferghana.Ru Department of Journalistic Investigation for some time already (see our forthcoming articles on the subject). Here is an interview with Dadajanov, the political immigrant from Uzbekistan who spent eighteen months in Ukraine before moving to Sweden.
Dadajanov's name reappeared in news several days ago when Uzmetronom reported with references to its "foreign sources" that "the families of Ismail Dadajanov from Kokand and Pulat Ahunov from Andijan contemplate a return to Uzbekistan."
Ferghana.Ru: Mr. Dadajanov, what country are you a citizen of?
Ismail Dadajanov: I'm a citizen of Uzbekistan. Have always been and will always remain one.
Ferghana.Ru: Where do you live?
Ismail Dadajanov: I live in the town of Helsingborg, Sweden.
Ferghana.Ru: Do you confirm that thirteen refugees chose to go back to Uzbekistan from Ukraine?
Ismail Dadajanov: We made contact with activists of the Ukrainian organization of Birlik and with the leaders of the Society of Uzbek Refugees as soon as this information appeared in the media. Not one of them has confirmed anybody's return to Uzbekistan from Ukraine. There are very many labor immigrants, legal and illegal, from Uzbekistan in Ukraine. Some of them may have returned. My sources in Ukraine tell me, however, that political refugees know better than that.
Ferghana.Ru: A web site quoted Natalia Prokopchuk of the Ukrainian office of the UN Commissariat for Refugees as saying that thirteen refugees from Andijan, the people who had ended up in Ukraine after the tragic events in this Uzbek city, returned to Uzbekistan in August 2006. Did they?
Ismail Dadajanov: Yes, some Akromijans did go back to Uzbekistan in August 2006 even though the government and Immigration Service of Sweden had granted them status of refugees. I can give you their names only, not family names, you know. I do not know how many they were, but they could number thirteen. All these people lived in Kiev and around Dnepropetrovsk in Ukraine.
Ferghana.Ru: Were all of them involved in the events in Andijan?
Ismail Dadajanov: Some of them were. Others, however, had been on the territory of the Russian Federation since before the events in Andijan. They came to Ukraine afterwards and appealed to the office of the UN Commissariat for Refugees. They were granted the coveted status and moved to Sweden. These people eventually returned to Uzbekistan.
Ferghana.Ru: Why do you think are political immigrants returning home?
Ismail Dadajanov: I wouldn't say that they are. It is the people who took part in the events in Andijan that go back, probably ordered to do so by their superiors or religious leaders (in the case of the Akromijans, for example). Political immigrants are not returning.
Ferghana.Ru: But media outlets did report the return of refugees from the United States...
Ismail Dadajanov: Some refugees did. Still, these people have never been involved with political organization. They are Akromija activists, and that's a religious organization.
Ferghana.Ru: Do you know of anyone going back to Uzbekistan from Sweden?
Ismail Dadajanov: No, I don't. Unless the Swedish authorities deported someone... I know for example that two Uzbeks from Tashkent were deported from Sweden the year before the last. They had had some problems with documents. I mean that these two people made it to Sweden illegitimately and couldn't prove to the locals' satisfaction that they had been harassed in Uzbekistan. Nobody leaves Sweden of his or her own volition. Nobody even entertains the idea. I talked to the people from political parties (Erk, Birlik) and religious organizations (Akromija), and so I know what I'm talking about. Not one of them is thinking in terms of going back.
As for Ahunov, the other man mentioned in the same report, I'm not going to be surprised to hear that he went back to Uzbekistan. He has his family here with him, but his mother and other relatives remained in Uzbekistan. He regularly visits them but he always comes back to Sweden.
(Pulat Ahunov is deputy chairman of Birlik, party of the opposition denied official registration in Uzbekistan. A political immigrant, he lives in Sweden - Ferghana.Ru news agency)
Ferghana.Ru: How do the local authorities in Ukraine and Sweden treat the refugees?
Ismail Dadajanov: We spent eighteen months in Ukraine and even thought about taking up permanent residence there. Unfortunately, we found ourselves under pressure there. The UN Commissariat for Refugees ordered us moved to a third country. We were asked to choose between the United States and Sweden and we chose the latter because it is closer to Uzbekistan. We've been here for nearly six months already. Attitude towards refugees here is much better than in Ukraine. It became particularly bad there when Victor Yanukovich became the prime minister. No support for refugees, material or moral. They are supposed to find apartments to live in on their own, they work illegitimately... Just imagine what they are paid. That is why we are thinking now about moving activists of our party from Ukraine elsewhere. Here, in Sweden, it's certainly different. We enjoy practically all the rights the Swedes themselves enjoy. The only thing, we cannot participate in election of the Riksdag (the parliament - Ferghana.Ru news agency). On the other hand, we do participate in local elections.
Practically all refugees living in Sweden were legalized by November 2006. Still, there are many more refugees in Ukraine but they hesitate to approach the office of the UN Commissariat for Refugees because several people were deported, arrested, and actually beaten in February 2006. That is why only 2% of all Uzbek refugees in Ukraine approach the UN Commissariat for Refugees. Whenever someone approaches it, it means that he or she must obtain registration with the Ukrainian Immigration Service and that means the local police.
Ferghana.Ru: Has anyone ever tried to persuade you to go back to Uzbekistan?
Ismail Dadajanov: Who would want to? We are not that trustful anymore...
Ferghana.Ru: But the refugees in the United States are approached and some of them do go back.
Ismail Dadajanov: Yes, my friends say that there is some group in America that approaches refugees there and persuades them to go back. No such group in Sweden, though.
Ferghana.Ru: And what arguments are being used?
Ismail Dadajanov: Reminding the refugees of their relatives left at home is all it takes. Very many have children left in Uzbekistan. There is a family living here in Sweden - man, wife, and a toddler - and their four other children are in Uzbekistan. Those who persuade people to go back are keen psychologists, always groping for the most effective argument that they think will convince people to return. Consider me, for example. I live in Sweden, but every morning I wake up with the feeling that I'm in Uzbekistan. It takes me a moment or two to realize where I am. That's natural because Uzbekistan is our native land where we have friends and relatives. I'm convinced that every refugee knows this feeling.
Ferghana.Ru: You are here with you family then?
Ismail Dadajanov: Yes, I'm. I have no relatives back in Uzbekistan. Everyone is here: six children, two grandchildren, and my wife.
Ferghana.Ru: And what do you do?
Ismail Dadajanov: We are studying Swedish for the time being. I do not doubt that we'll find jobs when we've learned it. I'm an engineer and technologist (light industry), I'll find a job. All we need is the language.
Ferghana.Ru: Did Marat Zahidov of the International Society for Human Rights come here to you in December 2006?
Ismail Dadajanov: He did. When he left, media outlets reported that I was going back to Uzbekistan. That was a provocation, of course. Zahidov had a different purpose in coming here. He is family, he stayed with us for a day and went back to Uzbekistan. As for me, I left it for fear of harassment. I will go back when I'm sure than it is safe for my family and me. Not yet, however.
Ferghana.Ru: Are you saying that you've been considering the possibility too?
Ismail Dadajanov: There is no Uzbek who wouldn't consider the possibility of going back. Uzbekistan is our country, a country where we have a lot to do. I'm not going back yet, not in the near future at least, because I do not think I'll be safe. Time will come, however, next year perhaps, when we will all go back to Uzbekistan. No two ways about it.
Going back to Uzbekistan or remaining abroad is a question everyone seeks his or her own answer to. I'm convinced, however, that we are needed in Uzbekistan. It's wrong for everyone to leave because it makes everything so much easier for the dictator. That is why I wish I were back in Uzbekistan. I cannot afford it at this point because of the criminal charges pressed against me there. Being in an Uzbek jail is not my idea of fun. I can do more for Uzbek society remaining here, in Sweden.