Detained immigrants dying of hunger in Orenburg

Train of good fortune, photo:
The Sulak special detention centre for illegal migrant workers in Orenburg, Russia, is being run as a prison, has learned, with those held there being fed on nothing but bread and water for several months.

Most of the workers living at the centre are migrant workers found to have ‘passport problems’, sources claim. The majority are from Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. There is also a relatively large contingent of workers from Vietnam. Although their ‘guilt’ is connected only with the loss of documents, sometimes through no fault of their own, the workers are held in Sulak as virtual prisoners and denied even the most basic living standards, sources say. Detainees of Uzbek nationality are reportedly being treated particularly badly.

“The immigrant workers are being taken off trains and brought to the detention centre ‘to ascertain their status’, but often this process lasts for months,” a well placed source employed in Uzbekistan’s penal system told, asking not to be identified.

“Not all workers of Uzbek origin travelling into Russia to find work are not aware that these ‘concentration camps’ exist,” he says, “and those who do have experience of them rarely have the courage to speak out, fearing even more unpleasant consequences.”

One young man, Sodyk, from Kashkadarya region, who was brave enough to tell the truth, found himself confined in this dreadful centre last summer and, he claims, spent nearly half a year there. Only after the intervention of Russian friends was he able to escape from the ‘prison’.

“They took me off the train at Orenburg as I was travelling to see my brother in Ulyanovsk; they said that instead of the correct licence in my passport there was a forged stamp,” Sodyk said.

The young man says that in the detention centre at that time there were around 40 Uzbek workers – they were emaciated, exhausted and unwell. Most were aged about 20 but looked much older. Many had had their passports taken away illegally by the local police.

Sodyk claims that the wardens at the centre routinely victimized those in their care, but people accepted this the as normal and silently put up with insults and degradation.

“Every so often they would allow us to make a phone call but only to other parts of Russia,” Sodyk continued. “The food rations for the most part consisted of a piece of bread with water; for dinner they only gave us boiled water.”