Kyrgyz security forces removed dozens of young women from a plane in the southern city of Osh set to transport them to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), allegedly for sexual exploitation.
“We have evidence that all the girls were being trafficked, with trafficking gangs supposed to meet them in the Emirates,” Bakyt Bekibaev, head of the regional office of the Kyrgyz National Security Service (NSS), said in Osh.
More than 60 women aged between 17 and 38 - including 58 Uzbek nationals, one Tajik, one Kyrgyz and one from Turkmenistan - had passed through passport and customs control at Osh airport and were sitting on an aircraft preparing to leave for Sharjah in the UAE before being taken to a detention centre in the city, according to the NSS.
Some detained girls from Uzbekistan interviewed by IRIN said that they had been offered jobs as cooks and waitresses in the Gulf state. “I was going to work as a cook in a restaurant there,” Zalina, an 18-year-old from the central Uzbek city of Samarkand, said, wiping her tears away. Many of the Uzbek women detained were from Samarkand and said they were going to Dubai to take up “an invitation from a sister living there”.
However, some appeared to have no illusions about what lay ahead of them. “I knew that I would be making money there, perhaps through sex work, but I don’t have any choice. I am an orphan, with no job and no means to survive,” said Olesia, 20, from the eastern Uzbek city of Ferghana.
According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), Central Asia is a growing region of origin for human trafficking, with women mainly going to the Gulf states. The main country of origin is Uzbekistan, given that it has the largest population in the region.
Estimating numbers of those trafficked out of the region is extremely difficult as no reliable statistics exist. Some observers say that every year up to 10,000 people, mainly young women destined for the sex trade, are taken from the region against their will, or under false pretences.
Experts from Ayol, an Uzbek NGO based in Samarkand working on human trafficking, told IRIN earlier that based on their surveys, the traffickers were recruiting young women, mainly from rural areas, promising them jobs as waitresses, nannies, cooks, saleswomen and dancers in the UAE. Upon arrival in the destination country they would end up in sexual slavery, the NGO said.
“We feel good that we managed to save a large group of desperate girls from a disgraceful experience abroad. Who knows what fate would befall them there? We do hope that they will return to their homes and reconsider,” one NSS official who coordinated the operation, said.
The basis for detaining the group was illegal crossing of the border and violation of migration rules in Kyrgyzstan. The girls were smuggled into Osh in small groups around 10 to 12 days ago and had been kept at private apartments prior to the flight.
Trafficking gangs in the region are using Kyrgyz territory because of tough border control measures in Uzbekistan, a local police officer said. “For example in Uzbekistan, young women leaving the country for Gulf states need to explain the reason of their travel and the security forces can double check their statements,” he explained.
Kudrat Karimov, the head of the IOM’s anti-trafficking programme in Kyrgyzstan, said that Osh had become a regional transit hub for trafficking of predominantly Uzbek and Tajik women abroad. Even “cases of law-enforcement officials involved in human trafficking in the area are not uncommon,” he claimed.
Kyrgyzstan was first among the Central Asian states to adopt a law on trafficking in persons in 2003. Some important amendments have recently been introduced, including tougher punishment for traffickers – from five to 20 years of imprisonment and property confiscation, Karimov added.