On May 30, Uzbekistan returned 156 citizens from armed conflicts in the Middle East as part of humanitarian operation. They were brought back from Damascus to Tashkent on a special flight.

The special operation was named “Dobro” [Kindness] and was carried out in the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. According to media messages, a range of foreign states and international organisations, including the International Committee of the Red Cross and UNICEF, provided assistance to it.

According to the press service of the head of Uzbekistan, national leader Shavkat Mirziyoyev ordered to carry it out. Later on, he called the process “tough”.

“It was tough to get them back. We had a hard time to get them back. The airplane we sent for them returned when it was halfway to destination.  I received a call which said the airplane would be shot down. I had to give a command to land the airplane in Azerbaijan. We sent buses there to get women and children back. Only two of 5 buses got back. We didn’t manage to return them all,” the president said at the Senate session in Tashkent on June 21.

According to him, these people left for the action area because their homeland did not create proper conditions for them and today the society needs to eliminate the reasons.

“Why did they leave? Because their situation here was dire, they didn’t have proper conditions. But what happened finally? Our women were sold, five children from different fathers, a 14-year-old girl gave birth to a child…  How can we tolerate this?” the national leader had said earlier.

Who are those people?

According to the State Security Service of Uzbekistan, the returnees had been in the territories controlled by the Islamic State, a terrorist organisation banned in Central Asian states.

Among them were 48 women, one man, and the rest were children, including two orphans. Upon arrival, they were placed to Buston health resort in Tashkent region, where they receive medical treatment. Psychologists and imam-khatibs work with them.

“During medical examination, we found that two women and one boy didn’t have lower extremities because of gunshot wounds, one child had acute enteric disease, 25 had somatic diseases, three children were diagnosed with pneumonia and septic otitis, one kid was hospitalised to the clinic of Tashkent Medical Academy with a diagnosis of osteomyelitis of the mandible,” the State Security Service replied to the request of CABAR.asia.

Moreover, two women had eight- and ten-day-old babies. A 14-year-old girl had a four-month old baby. She was the one the president spoke about. Also, there was a woman who was 6 months pregnant.

Currently, the returnees have been issued passports and birth certificates. Judicial restraints regarding convicted were changed to other measures other than detention.

According to Uzbek intelligence services, the natives of Uzbekistan are still present in action areas in the Middle East. Now the country is ready to get 177 Uzbekistanis back.

“They are in the Al Hol camp in the Syrian province of Hasakah. Their identities have been established. 48 women and the rest are children, including three orphans, are among them,” the State Security Service reported.

Sources of information

In general, the country is actively returning its citizens back home from terrorist organisations. The emphasis is put mainly on women and children. The results of such operations are shown on nationals TV channels from time to time.

The media, only foreign though, report other citizens of Uzbekistan who fall prisoners after military clashes with the armies of Iraq and Syria.

According to independent analyst based in Uzbekistan Farkhod Mirzabaev, the state had better negotiate with the governments of respective countries on the issues of extradition of these citizens.

“These countries have capable authorities and they should be negotiated with regarding the return of our citizens to home countries for punishment,” the expert said.

According to him, they can be an invaluable source of information and tell about the Uzbekistanis remaining in terrorist organisations, about movements to neighbouring Afghanistan, the presence of the so-called “dormant cells” in Uzbekistan, as well as disclose the recruitment channels, and provide much other valuable information overall.

“The effectiveness of policy in this regard will be increased many times,” Mirzabaev said with confidence.

According to the expert, monitoring of the situation with migrants in Turkey and Russia, and awareness campaign in the mosques of the country and on national TV could bring results.

“After all, jobs must be created in Uzbekistan so that our citizens won’t need to migrate looking for a job and become targets of recruiters when staying abroad,” the expert said.

This publication was produced under IWPR project «Forging links and raising voices to combat radicalization in Central Asia» 

Author: Viktor Sidorenko