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Russia: Uzbek Slave Laborers Freed Outside Of Moscow

By Vera Volodina Hundreds of thousands of migrants from Central Asia work in Russia (RFE/RL) MOSCOW -- Forty-nine illegal migrants from Uzbekistan were released from virtual slavery outside of Moscow on June 10 by agents of the Organized Crime and Terrorism Department.

Warrants have been issued for their employers, who are reportedly natives of Azerbaijan. They are believed to have sold their wares, produced by slave labor, for cash at Moscow markets and stores.

According to the police press service, 13 of the migrants have made statements saying that they were recruited several months ago and illegally brought into Russia.

Since then, they have worked 14 hours a day sorting onions in a factory area of the village of Chulkovo in the Ramensky Raion of Moscow Oblast. They were told they had to pay off the cost of their transportation to Moscow.

The former prisoners also told police that their employers confiscated their passports, refused to pay them their wages for several months, and punished them with fines for the slightest infractions of workplace rules.

Some of the women reported being sexually abused by their overseers, and none of the migrants were allowed to leave the area of the workplace.

Police were informed about the migrants in Chulkovo by a prisoner who managed to escape. According to Interior Ministry spokesman Innokenty Nefyodov, an operation to free the prisoners was organized immediately, before the prisoner's escape was noticed.

"The operation was planned extremely quickly, because it was very likely that if they noticed the disappearance of the prisoner, they might move the entire group to another location and it would have been very difficult to find them again," Nefyodov said. "Therefore, our agents were moving on the site within minutes and within literally a few seconds they had detained everyone there."

During the operation, two overseers, natives of Azerbaijan, were arrested and they face charges for the forced detention of the Uzbeks with the intention of exploiting them. They face up to 15 years in prison.

Nefyodov said the identities of the organizers have been established. He did not provide their names, but confirmed that they are natives of Azerbaijan and that they were out of the country at the time of the operation to free the captives.

Thirteen of the freed captives have made statements and agreed to testify against their captors. They have been placed in a rehabilitation center run by an international migration organization in order to protect them from outside pressure.

According to doctors, five of the former captives will require long-term medical care for injuries sustained working under such dire conditions.

RFE/RL Central Asia Report

RFE/RL Central Asia Report

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