American dream awaits Russia's Turks

Publié le par Artyom Liss and Sarah Rainsford

By Artyom Liss and Sarah Rainsford
BBC News, Krasnodar, Russia

In a house which Dilaver Karimov's family bought with their savings after fleeing the Uzbek city of Ferghana, the father and his three children are struggling through a tattered English-Russian phrasebook.

They take it in turns to read, huddled around the last table left in what was once a posh living room.

The Karimovs are getting ready to start from scratch again - for the third time in six decades.

Their grandparents were deported from Georgia by Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin in 1944.

Forty-five years later, in 1989, the family had to run for their lives again - this time from a hostile crowd in the Uzbek city of Ferghana.

Now, they are going to the US - along with thousands of ethnic Turks from the Krasnodar region of Southern Russia.

Registration restriction

They are leaving as part of a resettlement programme managed by the US State Department and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

 

American diplomats and representatives of international NGOs say that for the last 15 years, Meskhetian Turks have been denied even the most basic of human rights here.

Only one in three Turks managed to get a Russian passport.

The rest are stuck in a legal limbo - with documents issued back in the Soviet era which are now invalid.

This means none of the Turks can get what is known as "registration", a vital piece of paper without which no Russian can be admitted to a hospital, paid pension and benefits - or even be offered a job.

Lucky sale

Over their last few days in Russia, the Karimovs have been hastily selling all their belongings - many at a fraction of their cost.

Even the house itself was sold just a few hours before departure, for half its real value.

"Our neighbours know that they'll soon be able to move into houses which once belonged to the Turks without paying anything at all," Dilaver says.

"So I was really lucky to have found a buyer for my property."

At a nearby field, dozens of Turks are busy gathering tomatoes.

These people earn a basic living from the land, but without Russian citizenship or registration - even this is not officially allowed.

"The police stopped me this week, and told me my passport wasn't valid - that no such country exists.

"They demanded money. If I go to market now, it will happen again," says one of the workers.

"Only a few days ago," continues another labourer, "the police demanded to see my registration."

"They know we can't get that - so they said they were hungry, and I had to pay for their lunch."

'Citizenship offer'

The Turks working in this field say they cannot afford even a moment of relaxation.

They have to constantly keep one eye on their job, and the other peeled for the authorities.

This is probably their last harvest in Russia: none of the people gathering vegetables here refused the chance to move to America.

In the local administration, Viktor Okhrimenko, in charge of migration issues, is trying his best to describe the situation in very careful terms.

"We have offered them both citizenship and registration, but there was little uptake," he says.

"Those who think that we don't want Turks here are just not right. All we want is for all people in this region to obey the law."

Hollywood hopes

But none of the Turks believe him. They insist that all their requests for registration and passports are turned down without a blink of the eyelid.

At 9 am, the Krasnodar office of the International Organisation for Migration is already extremely busy.

"I see no future for us here," says one of the applicants.

"They just don't need us at this land."

Up to 100 applications a day are processed here - and Phil Eanes, the IOM representative in Krasnodar, is very happy with the turnout.

He says the Americans are giving the Turks an escape route.

"The US has always opened its arms to those in need, and we felt the Meskhetian Turks should not be left out," he says.

"You should see the look on their faces when I say that if they go to America they can work as a farmer, or a banker - or if they want to - can get a job in Hollywood as a superstar!"

Big Mac

The IOM officials here have launched an educational programme aimed specifically at the Turks.

The new settlers are shown videos, offered books, brochures, even games - all about their new life in America.

"I have only seen the US in the movies," says Dilaver's 18-year-old son Sadykh.

"But I know that I'll be just fine. I hope to become an NBA player or a marine. And I also want to try a Big Mac - this is what they eat there, right?"

Over the next three months, the IOM is hoping to process at least 5,000 applications.

And this number is set to grow even higher: the deadline for applying has just been extended.

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