F. M. is a human rights activist and a member of the Human Rights Alliance of Uzbekistan. He acted as a non-lawyer, human rights defender, providing legal advice and consultations with people whose rights were violated. He also participated in peaceful public protests to call attention to the worsening human rights situation in Uzbekistan.
Over the last 8 years, Uzbek authorities increasingly controlled the activities of human rights defenders and independent journalists particularly after the Andijan massacre in 2005. As a result, F.M. also faced persecution and imprisonment in response to his human rights activities. In 2009, he was arrested by Uzbek authorities on trumped-up and politically motivated charges and was imprisoned for 4 years. After serving 16 months of his sentence, he was paroled thanks to sustained external pressure.
“But even after his release, restrictions, persecution and threats did not stop” his daughter recalls, “there was an extremely high risk of my father being arrested again and so the family decided to urgently flee Uzbekistan”. And so the family fled to Kyrgyzstan in December 2010, seeking asylum and protection, and registering as asylum seekers with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Bishkek.
A brave 21-year old, his daughter further recounts how Kyrgyzstan ignored their asylum request and even tried to fulfil the extradition request of Uzbekistan and return her father back to the country where he would face torture and imprisonment again. “We lived in Kyrgyzstan in fear, dreaming about when after all this time we would be able to live in safety. Finally in May 2013, we were informed that the Netherlands wanted to give us protection status and as a result we were able to leave Kyrgyzstan in August of 2013 after a long time of fear, uncertainty and finally, hope.”
As the passports of the family members didn’t hold the permission of Uzbekistan to travel abroad, the Dutch Embassy in Kazakhstan had to provide temporary passports in the form of travel documents. D.M. recalls the day they were ready to start their new life: “We were passing the border control and were so close to boarding when the Kyrgyz border guards stopped us because they could not understand how it is possible to enter the country with Uzbek passports and leave it with Dutch ones. The plane was about to take off. It was a moment full of tension for us, but thanks to the intervention of the international Organization for Migration (IOM), we were permitted to board the flight to the Netherlands.”
“We safely arrived to Amsterdam and a representative of IOM met us at the airport. Afterwards a representative of the Central Organization for the Reception of Refugees (COA) accompanied us and assisted us with all the documentation work and registration. The next day we arrived to the house which was given for us to rent and live in. We were warmly welcomed by our neighbors and by volunteers who work with refugees. They all help us always. We are happy that after such a challenging and intensive period of our life, we finally found a safe place to live, to study and work. We are grateful for that experience in the past and for the opportunities the Netherlands is giving us today. I feared that we would feel ourselves alone in the Netherlands, where everything is different. But I am glad that my apprehension did not fulfill. In the Netherlands I feel like I am at home: safe, secure, and simply happy.”