Labor Migrants Returned Home During Coronavirus Lockdown

Speeches Shim

Tuesday, April 14, 2020
Nilufar Artikova speaking to migrant workers

Nilufar Artikova is a lawyer whose daily life consists of helping people in difficult circumstances. Her employer Istiqbolli Avlod (“Youth of the Future”) is a non-government organization (NGO) that provides free legal assistance to vulnerable populations such as migrant workers and victims of human trafficking and domestic violence. Istiqbolli Avlod was awarded a grant in February 2020 through the USAID Legal Reform Program to support their work.

Starting in March 2020, the Government of Uzbekistan initiated aggressive measures to contain the coronavirus pandemic. To date, approximately 555 cases have been identified in Uzbekistan, and three people have died. The government has ordered a lockdown, requiring citizens to remain inside their houses, and is preventing travel internationally and locally. Like everywhere else in the world, the preventative measures affect vulnerable populations most of all. With the borders closed and strict quarantine measures imposed, Nilufar and her colleagues continue to provide legal assistance by phone and through social media channels.

“On March 28, we received multiple requests for help from migrant workers who needed to return to their home regions of Kashkadarya and Surkhandarya (in the southeast of Uzbekistan) but were stuck in Tashkent due to travel restrictions imposed on public transportation. These workers went to private intra-city taxi stands only to discover they could not afford transportation home,” Nilufar explains.

Understanding the urgency of the problem, Istiqbolli Avlod raised the issue with the local media and turned for help to the Chair of the Uzbek Senate, Ms. Tanzila Narbaeva. Ms. Narbaeva immediately intervened and ordered government agencies to provide special buses for the migrant workers. 

“Workers in a critical situation turned to us for help, and what they needed most during the pandemic and quarantine was to be able to go home,” explains Nilufar. “If they remained stranded in Tashkent, without a place to stay, the means to sustain themselves, or the ability to practice social distancing and adhere to their personal hygiene, they would be exposed to a greater risk of contracting and spreading the Coronavirus.” On March 29, some two thousand people safely returned to their home regions, where they were reunited with their families. “I can’t express how happy we all were when those buses arrived!” recalls Nilufar.

Even in this dire situation, with the country under strict quarantine, the NGO’s personnel found ways to respond to a request for assistance. “People were shedding tears of gratitude and thanked us for providing help. In this period of strict quarantine, there is an even greater need for our consultations, and this situation confirmed it. We cannot stop our work, as the well-being of our most vulnerable fellow citizens often depends on it,” says Nodira Karimova, the Director of Istiqbolli Avlod.

At the time when Istiqbolli Avlod was awarded the USAID grant, news about a Coronavirus outbreak somewhere far away was not raising many concerns among the Uzbek population yet. Now, as the country is in the midst of fighting the pandemic, USAID’s support has brought relief to people who desperately needed it: Istiqbolli Avlod immediately raised the issue through the available channels, and the state, for its part, quickly and efficiently responded and solved the problem. This successful collaboration illustrates that NGOs such as Istiqbolli Avlod have a definite and growing role to play in Uzbekistan, and USAID is very proud to support them.


The USAID Legal Reform Program provides grants to NGOs in Uzbekistan to increase justice for the most vulnerable populations through free legal assistance, dissemination of information on new laws, regulations and procedures relevant to civil society and training for legal professionals. Since February 2020 USAID-supported NGOs have provided free legal advice to 1,380 citizens (662 men and 718 women), and organized awareness-raising campaigns in local communities, reaching 857 citizens (295 men and 562 women).