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No-Man's-Land: Tajiks Stranded On Kazakh-Uzbek Border Amid Coronavirus Fears


Tajik migrants trapped on the Kazakh border on March 16.

Dozens of Tajiks, including many women and children, were stranded for 17 hours on the Kazakh-Uzbek border on March 16 as countries closed their borders in an effort to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

A Tajik man told RFE/RL on March 16 the group was en route to Tajikistan from Russia, but got stuck in Kazakhstan at the Qaplanbek-Navoi border crossing, which was closed at midnight on March 15-16.

"The border guards told us that Uzbekistan only allows its own citizens to enter the country," said the man, who gave only his first name, Abdullo.

Several videos sent to RFE/RL show a long line of cars near the border crossing, with many children among the passengers.

A group of people can be seen standing near the closed border fence and trying to speak with uniformed Uzbek border guards on the other side of the iron gate.

"We can't go back, we can't go forward, we're stuck in this transit area," said another Tajik man, Parviz.

Parviz and others put the number of Tajik nationals there at around 200.

Unable to afford plane tickets, the Tajiks opted to travel from Russia to Tajikistan by land -- a journey that takes several days through Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.

"We have no money to stay here for long. Nobody wants us -- Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan all closed their doors on us," a man said, making an urgent plea for the Tajik government to help the group get home: "We need our government to help us to get out of here, to return home," he said.

The group said they had asked the Tajik Embassy in Kazakhstan for help, but the Tajik diplomats didn't give an immediate reply.

A Tajik diplomat in Kazakhstan told RFE/RL that the embassy was aware of the situation and was looking for measures to help resolve the problem. The diplomat requested anonymity, as he wasn’t authorized to speak to the media.

Closing Borders

Uzbek authorities reported the country’s first confirmed coronavirus infection on March 15 and immediately announced sweeping measures to contain the virus.

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Along with the border closures, Tashkent is also shutting down schools, suspending international flights, and banning public gatherings.

On March 16, Uzbek media reported six coronavirus infections in total, with 230 people being kept under quarantine.

Kazakhstan announced a state of emergency on March 15 as the country recorded three new coronavirus infections, bringing its total to nine.

Tajikistan hasn't reported any confirmed coronavirus infections as of March 16.

Hundreds of thousands of Tajiks have gone to Russia as migrant workers due to a lack of jobs in Tajikistan, the poorest country in Central Asia, where unemployment is epidemic.

Tajikistan's Interior Ministry said late on March 16 that the group were finally allowed to cross into Uzbekistan to continue their journey home.

Written by Farangis Najibullah with reporting by Mullorajab Yusufi of RFE/RL's Tajik Service