Speeches Shim

Wednesday, September 9, 2020
A graphic illustration of Murat and Bibigul and their children
Ramilya Sazazova for USAID

A Migrant Family Safely Returns to Uzbekistan During the Pandemic

When Murat and Bibigul (names changed to protect their identities) took their four children from Nukus in Karakalpakstan, Uzbekistan and headed to Kazakhstan in search of employment, their future looked promising. Although, life as labor migrants turned out to be more difficult than they had imagined.

After weeks of searching, Murat eventually found a job in a local café. Bibigul stayed home and took care of the children. Everything was falling into place until the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We had finally settled-in, rented an apartment, and started feeling comfortable, when the coronavirus pandemic broke out and upended everything,” recalls Murat.

Strict lockdown restrictions imposed by the Government of Kazakhstan to contain the spread of infection hit the restaurant business hard. Soon, the café’s owner had to close, and temporary workers like Murat found themselves jobless. Subsequent attempts to find a new job failed one after the other.

“I felt desperate, not for myself, but for my family – I tried hard not to let them down. Every morning my wife and children would wish me good luck with finding a new job, and every day I would return home unfortunate and upset,” says Murat.

Before long, the family’s modest savings vanished, and they were unable to pay the rent. An acquaintance sheltered them for a few days, and later they moved to another location. During their move, they lost part of their belongings including their identity documents - passports and the children’s birth certificates. Finally, they found themselves on the streets with nowhere to go and nobody to help them. Their youngest was only two years old. With border closures due to the pandemic, they were also unable to return to their home in Uzbekistan.

For almost a month, they squatted in an open field next to a garbage dump. To sustain the family, Murat and Bibigul sifted through the garbage for usable items, which Murat sold or traded for food. “These were the bleakest days in our lives, I felt that I failed my family and feared that we would never be able to return home,” Murat recalls.

A Kazakh non-governmental organization (NGO) learned about the family’s situation and informed the Uzbek NGO, Istiqbolli Avlod in Karakalpakstan. As soon as the border between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan opened again, the two NGOs collaborated to help the family to return to Nukus, where Istiqbolli Avlod offered them shelter. Istiqbolli Avlod’s lawyer assisted the family in obtaining new passports, birth certificates for the children, and other necessary documents. The lawyer also helped them to apply for unemployment benefits, support for low-income families, and other benefits for which they were eligible.

After a while, Murat also found a local job. “I can’t tell you how happy we are that we are home and can live with dignity again. We are very grateful to Istiqbolli Avlod and Bakhtiyar, the lawyer who helped us. Without their support we wouldn’t have been able to resolve all the issues in such a short time,” says Murat.

USAID’s Legal Reform Program provides Istiqbolli Avlod assistance to improve access to justice for the most vulnerable populations through legal awareness raising, free legal assistance, and training of legal professionals.

The coronavirus pandemic has greatly increased the need for free legal support, especially among labor migrants such as Murat and Bibigul, and USAID is proud to join local NGOs, the Ministry of Justice, and other partners in making justice accessible to Uzbekistan’s citizens.