Human traffickers in the Ferghana Valley region are increasingly using the southern Kyrgyz city of Osh as a departure point for ferrying victims to destination countries, a local NGO working to stop trafficking, said on March 9, 2006.
"Osh has already become a transit hub for traffickers from neighbouring countries [Uzbekistan and Tajikistan]," Sadykjan Makhmudov, head of the local NGO 'Luch Solomona', told IRIN.
Their comments came after more than 60 trafficked women, mainly from Uzbekistan, were detained at Osh airport in February while trying to board a flight to Sharja in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on suspicion of being trafficked.
Osh is a favoured departure point for regional traffickers due to the ease in which groups of women can leave the country. "In Uzbekistan, for instance, there is tough border control with special scrutiny of the purpose of travel abroad. That's why they use Kyrgyzstan as a transit point," Makhmudov said.
Proving trafficking is notoriously hard. Many of the women detained in Osh denied they were being trafficked and said they had been travelling to the UAE to take up jobs. Zeyneb, 18, from the central Uzbek city of Samarkand, claimed that she was going to work as a cook at a restaurant in the Gulf state.
"I want to make some money to buy a flat in Samarkand. There are no jobs available in my home city," she said. Asked whether she had any guarantee that she would be employed there as a cook, however, she hesitated and turned away.
Other women in the group had no illusions as to what they would have been doing if they had been allowed to travel to the UAE.
"I was told straightforward what I would be doing in the Emirates – prostitution. I was promised a salary of a couple of thousand US dollars per month. I did not have any other choice. I used to work in Ferghana as a waitress, but my boss fired me. Now, I am going back home, but I don't know what I will do there," Olesia, from the eastern Uzbek city of Ferghana, said.
A Kyrgyz security official who wished to remain anonymous provided an insight into how the system works. "The young women are recruited in their places of origin – in this case we are talking about the [eastern] Uzbek cities of Andijan, Ferghana, Namangan, [central] Samarkand and others. Pimps or 'madams' conduct this side of the business and deal with travel agencies, book the tickets and organise the movement of girls to the points of departure."
Along with the tour companies, there are networks of private apartments for hosting women until they can be trafficked abroad, taxi drivers transporting them across borders and officials prepared to turn a blind eye for a bribe.
Travel agents in Osh are often responsible for booking air tickets for the women, but say they are not involved in anything illegal.
"Nobody can find any breaches of law in our work. We are not interested in what our clients are up to; this is their personal business. We are paid for our services and we provide transit services," one man from a local travel agency said.
Police concede that it is difficult to prosecute trafficking gangs. Law enforcement officials usually detain young women they suspect of being trafficked on breaches of immigration law or for presenting false documents.
Estimating numbers of those trafficked out of the region is extremely difficult, as no reliable statistics exist. Some reports suggest that every year up to 10,000 people, mainly young women destined for the sex trade, are taken from Central Asia against their will, or under false pretences.