Timosoara, Romania; 7 September 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Two young women are learning English. They are Uzbek refugees living in a refugee camp in the Romanian city of Timisoara.
One of them, 19-year-old Benazir, is pregnant. But neither of them knows their husbands’ whereabouts. The women, as Benazir explains, lost track of their husbands during the bloody events in the Uzbek city of Andijon on 13 May. “My husband was at home when I left Andijon, but now I do not know where he is,” she says.
Late July, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees relocated to Romania some 439 Uzbek refugees who had fled to neighboring Kyrgyzstan after the May uprising, in which hundreds of Uzbek civilians are believed to have perished.
The refugees live in four single-store buildings, men and women staying separately. Some 20 men are housed in a single room, but the refugees say there is enough space in the room for another 15 people.
They have a separate TV room. They watch mostly Russian channels available through satellite. There is also a soccer field in the middle of the camp. The refugees say they have all they need here.
“Uzbek people whose rights were violated and who wanted to protect their own rights are based here," one man says. "Their rights were violated in Uzbekistan. They were striving for good things. All conditions have been created for these people to play football, tennis, and chess games.”
There is a kitchen at one side of the camp. The man cooking for the refugees used to work as a cook in Andijon. He has five or six assistants. On a recent day, they cooked the Uzbek national meal, “palow,” or pilaf, using buckwheat instead of traditional rice. The refugees even try to cook special Uzbek bread.
One of the refugees repairs shoes. The 24-year-old man says that he was among the protesters on 13 May.
The Uzbek government claims 187 people were killed in the violence, which it blames on Islamic extremists and criminals. Human rights groups say the death toll could be as high as 1,000, including many women and children. The refugees in Romania who witnessed the Andijon violence say many more people died when the Uzbek government troops opened fire on a crowd of protesters.
"There were ordinary people demonstrating [on the square]. They fired on all of them. When we think about those people who were killed at the demonstration, even now we tremble with fear." - refugee
A 9-year-old boy, an eyewitness of the events, describes what he saw in Andijon on 13 May: “I went to the demonstration with my mother. Then, at around 3:30 p.m., two helicopters appeared. After they were flying for half an hour, they [troops] started to fire. At first we stood still. Then we decided to leave the square. We were walking for a long time. You know as fruit falls down when you kick the tree -- making a ‘top, top’ sound. Injured and dead people were falling down one after another, exactly like that: top, top. Thank God, my mom and I survived.”
The refugees in Timisoara who spoke to RFE/RL say government forces opened fire on protesters without warning. One 40-year-old woman could hardly keep tears back as she recalled the 13 May events: “[Uzbek President Islam] Karimov has been deceiving the people for 15 years. We went to the demonstration to defend our rights. Nobody came to talk to us. They were only shooting without warning. We did not think that they would open fire. There were ordinary people demonstrating [on the square]. They fired on all of them. When we think about those people who were killed at the demonstration, even now we tremble with fear.”
The refugees say that only an international independent investigation can clear up exactly what happened in Andijon.
“If we are guilty, we will be held responsible," one young woman says. "If Karimov is guilty, he has to be held responsible. We demand this.” She, like the other refugees, is now waiting to be resettled to a country where she can feel safe.
But it remains unclear where they will end up, or when they will go. The office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees says there are representatives in Timosoara from at least 10 possible destination countries, including the United States, Australia, and Canada.See also:
Andijon And The 'Information War'
Uzbekistan Demands Repatriation Of Andijon Refugees
For RFE/RL's complete coverage of the mid-May events in Andijon, see: "Unrest in Uzbekistan"