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Uzbekistan: Refugee Looks Back As Asylum Quest Proceeds

Toghboy Razzoqov (RFE/RL) May 11, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- The tragedy of the bloodshed in the eastern Uzbek city of Andijon in May 2005 did not end when the last bullets were fired. Hundreds of residents fled their homes after the deadly crackdown on a public demonstration, which is thought to have resulted in hundreds of deaths. Many of those who escaped went to neighboring Kyrgyzstan, with some eventually resettled in Europe and North America. Some have returned; but others wait in hopes of help from international aid agencies.

Once again, Toghboy Razzoqov is packing his bags.

Along with a small group of fellow Andijon refugees living in Kyrgyzstan, Razzoqov has been granted asylum in Canada.

Razzoqov is no stranger to moving. He has lived many places since leaving his native eastern Uzbekistan a year ago, including a refugee camp near the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border.

"I haven't lived in just one place," Razzoqov says. "I've lived in a camp; I've lived in [Kyrgyzstan's] Tokmok and Sokuluk areas. One by one, I've tried every place there is."

But the 60-year-old former schoolteacher and published poet spent most of his life in Andijon.

Before the demonstrations and the ensuing violence of May 2005, he had been planning for his retirement.

Living Off Charity

He says it "never crossed [his] mind, even in [his] wildest dreams," that he would be what he calls "a homeless and jobless refugee living off the mercy of others." Razzoqov says a Kyrgyz-based nonprofit group, Adilet, provides him with the roughly $50 a month (at the official exchange rate) that he needs in order to live.

"I receive 2,000 [Kyrgyz soms] through Adilet, and I pay this money to a friend of mine, who in return allows me to live in his home," Razzoqov says. "I also help him with housework. That's how I live now."

Razzoqov says he participated along with thousands of others in the demonstration on Andijon's Bobur Square on May 13, 2005, although he says he "had no political agenda."

He says he left as tension mounted, but before security forces opened fire with automatic weapons to disperse the crowd of demonstrators, killing many.

Root Of The Trouble

Two years later, there are still many questions about what happened. There are also questions about who was behind a jailbreak the night of May 12-13, as well as who organized the protests and what the protesters wanted.

The Uzbek government blames Islamic extremists for staging the demonstrations, and says that fewer than 200 people died -- all of them insurgents or troops.

Razzoqov says that, to his knowledge, many Andijon residents had joined the protest to voice dissatisfaction with social hardships.

"Those standing behind the podium and the others were talking about their difficult living conditions, their pain," he says. "They were saying: 'We have no jobs, we don't even have enough money for bread. What should we do? Our pension is miserable.'"

Hundreds of residents fled Andijon in the immediate aftermath of the bloody clampdown against protesters. Most appear to have headed for Kyrgyzstan.

Some 500 Andijon refugees have officially been registered by Kyrgyz authorities.

Razzoqov stayed in Andijon. He says that since he didn't regard himself as either " a religious extremist" or guilty of any wrongdoing, he had no reason to fear or flee.

But in the end, he says he felt compelled to leave.

Seeking Asylum

Razzoqov, who describes himself as an opposition sympathizer, says that at informal gatherings he criticized government troops for shooting defenseless demonstrators. He soon found himself under police scrutiny. He was repeatedly questioned by police, and police officers paid several visits to his home.

One year after the Andijon bloodshed, fearing that he might be thrown in jail, Razzoqov left Andijon to seek asylum in Kyrgyzstan.

He eventually obtained refugee status and legal permission to remain in Kyrgyzstan. But rebuilding his life has proven difficult.

Razzoqov was approaching retirement age, making it difficult to find a job.

He survives on about $50 a month -- along with cooking oil, vegetables, and pasta -- that he receives from Adilet, a nonprofit group that was created specifically to assist Andijon refugees living in Kyrgyzstan.

But Razzoqov does not complain about his financial situation.

"Fifty dollars per month is enough for us. With that money, I buy tea and other things, and [Adilet] also give me pasta -- so I would never starve to death," Razzoqov says. "I don't have to beg. There are many good people around here -- acquaintances and other people. Sometimes a neighbor sends a bowl of food. Sometimes the landlord gives me some food out of sympathy."

Starting Anew

Razzoqov says that having to start all over again -- at his advanced age, far from home, and with no family or friends nearby -- hurts him most.

But he'll be farther from home after his planned move to Canada later this month.

Razzoqov says he dreams about his hometown, and still has nightmares about what happened on May 13 two years ago.

Razzoqov also says he hopes one day to return to Andijon, which he and hundreds of his fellow Andijonis had to leave behind to face an uncertain and lonely future.

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    Farangis Najibullah

    Farangis Najibullah is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL who has reported on a wide range of topics from Central Asia, including the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on the region. She has extensively covered efforts by Central Asian states to repatriate and reintegrate their citizens who joined Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.