Each year hundreds of thousands – perhaps millions – of Uzbek citizens seek refuge from joblessness by heading abroad to look for work. As a side effect of that exodus, some fall victim to human traffickers.
Judging by the dearth of official statements, the scourge has never been a priority for Tashkent.
Now, however, a top migration official has acknowledged the problem of “modern slavery,” as he calls human trafficking. Yet instead of warning citizens how to avoid falling into the traffickers’ hands, he’s done what any self-respecting Uzbek official might do: He’s used the opportunity to praise his country’s policies and point out that, besides, Uzbeks are not the only victims.
In a commentary published in the government mouthpiece Narodnoye Slovo, Samariddin Mamashakirov of the State Agency for External Labor Migration, says that human trafficking is a problem that must be handled internationally and blames unemployment (don’t worry, they’re working on it) as the single biggest cause.
The transformations that are taking place in our country are becoming the foundation of socioeconomic stability. […] A growth in GDP, industrial production and agricultural output and the development of the trade and services sphere has improved the quality of people's lives. Issues of improving the social sphere and increasing the population’s income are the focus of state policy. […]
As we know the main cause of human trafficking crimes is high unemployment levels. Demographic and economic peculiarities of our country [the large and rapidly growing population] explain the importance of the unemployment problem. With the aim of ensuring the employment of the working-age population in Uzbekistan, programs to create new jobs are being implemented thanks to which thousands of jobs are created in towns and villages in the country. An employment program for 2013, endorsed by the Oliy Majlis [parliament] of the Republic of Uzbekistan, provides for the creation of over 972,900 jobs through the development of small businesses and private entrepreneurship, industry, the localization of production and the advancement of working from home and family-run businesses.
Mamashakirov suggests human trafficking could be fought by requiring Uzbek citizens to get a license to work abroad. And without the public's involvement in fighting the problem, "no specially-created law-enforcement body, nor the most perfect laws will produce the expected result."
Government statistics in Uzbekistan are notoriously unreliable, but according to some estimates unemployment is so rife that 1.5 million Uzbek migrants live in Russia’s two largest cities, Moscow and St Petersburg, alone. Millions more are thought to be scattered across Russia, Kazakhstan and other countries.
As EurasiaNet.org reported in December, Uzbek citizens frequently fall victim to traffickers in Kazakhstan.
The US State Department’s 2012 Trafficking in Person report calls Uzbekistan a source country for forced laborers and sex slaves. According to the report, Uzbekistan conducted 951 trafficking investigations in 2011, up from 529 in 2010, though the number of traffickers prosecuted in the same period fell.