Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Uzbeks Flock to Work in Kyrgyz South

Thousands of people from Uzbekistan earn their living over the border in Kyrgyzstan because life is so tough at home.
Reporter Janar Akaev interviewed Uzbeks who cross the border every day to do manual jobs in southern Kyrgyzstan, where they fill a gap left by people who are leaving the region in search of better prospects elsewhere.

Typically, the Uzbeks work on Kyrgyz building sites and farms from spring to autumn and work as porters in the winter months, either at the giant wholesale market at Karasuu or carting goods back and forth over the border.

At the border crossing, the reporter found women and adolescents stopping cars to see whether there was any casual work they could do.

One 14-year-old boy said he had working as a cross-border porter for two years. Another, aged 16, said, “Every day, I rent a handcart and work, and then go back to Uzbekistan in the evening. There’s no work there, after all. I have to feed my mother and three brothers. Five or six of my neighbours are working with me.”

Although these porters are paid a tiny sum of money, they have to pay bribes to the Kyrgyz and Uzbek border guards who tolerate their presence.

They earn only enough to buy flour and tea, but say that is still better than working as hired labour on a farm in Uzbekistan.

The vast majority do not have work permits, so while there are officially around 2,000 foreign nationals registered to work in Osh region, the real figure – including people from neighbouring Tajikistan as well as Uzbekistan – is estimated at 10,000 or 15,000, and rises in the summer months.

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