Slavery in the 21st Century in KZ (Part II)

The following is a continuation of what I posted last week from Vox Populi.  Read on…

16. “Commercial slavery is a very profitable business for traffickers and pimps. Human slaves cost anywhere between 10,000 and 300,000 tenge on the black market and pimps make 20,000 tenge and higher a day. A family business associated with trafficking is the most fail-safe option. There have been instances where the wife is the pimp, the husband is the driver and nephews work as overseers or guard the girls. Girls are usually recruited from the streets, lured and deceived with offers of work as waitresses or nannies and then are forced into the car and brought to the den.”

17. “Sometimes commercial sex workers help us on a volunteer basis. They are registered in the center as volunteers. We help them to recover documents and children who were born outside of hospitals and the girls help us by telling us where girls are being kept, especially minors. We participated in raids together with the police. When the police enter the brothels, the pimps hide the girls and every corner of the apartment has to be searched.”

18. Victims of trafficking often try to escape, but they are caught and severely punished. Some girls try to commit suicide.

19. Written on a piece of paper belonging to one of the girls at the shelter: “It’s difficult for me to remember those days when we were together, you know that I want to return! Why did I ever come to Astana. Why did I leave home? Lord, please return everything back to my parents, my beloved ones!”

20. Saule (not real name) left home at 16 because of constant arguments, fights and alcoholic parents.

I came to Astana together with my friend. This one woman came up to us and offered us work. At first we didn’t understand what kind of work it was. When we got to the apartment, she told us what we’d be doing and offered us to stay the night and we could answer the next day. The next day we said that we weren’t interested and she answered us ‘I rented an apartment for you, fed you, and now you have to work off your debt.’ Then they just wouldn’t let us leave. One girl costs 5000 tenge/hour and one girl could serve anywhere from 5 to 20 clients a day. They beat us often. Once we had worked all night until morning but the clients wanted to extend their time until lunch. We refused. Then the pimps came, took us out into the Steppe, and beat us. Our pimp was a young 23-year old girl who herself had been a prostitute and our handler was an 18-year old boy.

21. 17-year old Lena has a psychologically-developed mind corresponding to that of a 10-year old child and was impregnated by a client to whom she became attached when she was a slave. She considered him her favorite person. Girls with mental illnesses sometimes only need just a hint of affection or some trinket and they become attached to him and believe him unconditionally.

“When I lived in a dormitory for former orphans, a car came by and took two of our girls. The girls ran away. When I came out of the dorm once, I met a woman named Tanya who offered me to work in her café. I went to the location and Tanya said that I’ll be a prostitute. Girls who refused were severely beaten and even set one on fire.

22. Vera is mentally retarded, finished only one grade and can’t read or write. She can’t explain anything by herself. According to Anna Ryl, a man helped her by telling the police. They beat her in the brothel. Before that, Vera lived with alcoholic parents who sold her into slavery. When she first came to the center, she couldn’t put two words together.

“I lived poorly. They drank at home. Mom beat me on the legs, wouldn’t let me walk around, but I wanted to go outside. I have a stepdad and a father. I love my real dad more and wanted to live with him.”

23. 17-year Saltanat left home because of numerous fights. Together with her friend, she left for Astana to find work, where she fell into the hands of traffickers.

“There were four other girls in the apartment. We got up at 4pm, cleaned the apartment and by 7, the handlers brought customers. Sometimes we worked all night till 9am. My family doesn’t know anything. I just want to forget everything and return to my hometown.”

24. Veleriya is raising a year-old daughter.

“My mother drank a lot and to her I was just an unwanted child. I was ten when she told me how she tried to get rid of me when she was pregnant and how she would love to get rid of me now. After my grandmother’s death, she drank the house away and I was given to an orphanage. When I left there, my mother told me to come live with her so that, as it turned out, she could sell me to some Uzbeks. When she disappeared, I was only 15. During the day, I tended sheep for my owners, but at night…”

25. “I managed to escape. Without documents or any things, I ended up on the streets. A lot of bad things followed, but now I’m here. At first I had the desire to find my mom, but now I don’t want to see her. The most important thing is my daughter, whom I give all the love that I never received from my mother.”

26. In addition to commercial slavery, the Komek Center all works with victims of labor slavery.

“The International Organization for Migration helps us with migrants. With their help, we are able to communicate with social workers in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and other countries so that they might conduct investigations connected with their citizens. Last year, we had 11 men of Uzbek nationality, of whom 4 were minors. Their passports were taken at work and held. On the phone, they trusted us and turned to us for help. As a result, together with the migration police, we helped the migrants to prepare documents and return home. As for the employers who violated Kazakhstani law, administrative actions were levied against them.”

27. “Two years ago, three people came to us who had been held anywhere from 4 to 15 years at the wintering grounds of Karakuduk in the Shetskiy District of Karaganda Region. Ukrainian citizen Tatyana Tverdokhebova was a labor slave victim from 1995-2009, Vladimir Solomatin from Temirtau was in slavery from 2005-2009 and Oktyabr Lee from Karaganda was held from 1995-2009. Oktyabr was the only one who stayed in the center. He has had poor hearing since childhood. After his release, due to inhumane conditions and poor food, he had to undergo four operations.

“I worked on this farm since 1986,” tells Oktyabr. “After the Soviet Union collapsed, there wasn’t anywhere to go and farmer Tursunbek Akzhunusov asked me to help him on the farm and I agreed. At first I was treated well, ate together with the owners, they weren’t rude and didn’t hit. He promised a lot of money, but never paid. The work was hard – I had to tend to almost 900 sheep and take care of each animal and clean the barn. When I started getting older, they understood that they I didn’t have much good to me and started to treat me like an animal. Sometimes Tursunbek would hire workers and pay them 20,000 tenge but all that was left for us were beatings and scraps. Tatyana showed up on the farm in 1995. She was a good worker on the farm, but the owners didn’t spare her and beat her while Tursunbek’s son was raunchy with her, raped her and did bad things to her. She begged to go home but they only answered with beatings and cut rations.

28. “In 2005 came the last of us, Volodya. Not a very tall man but a very healthy man. He tried to escape but was caught and was beaten like a dog, tied to a horse and dragged around in circles. The shepherd had seven sons and they all beat Volodya. I told them, ‘God will punish you for doing that, you can’t treat people like that…’ but they kept beating him while the 60-year old farmer, seeing that Volodya was completely battered, laughed, saying, ‘What happened, did you fall hard?” The beatings left him disabled for life.

29. “We were literally fed scraps from the master’s table: moldy rolls, stale bread soaked in water, spoiled soup. In court they told us we could have left by train! But where are you going to run away to? Climb up any hill and all you can see is Steppe. All around were Tursunbek’s people – half the village were his relatives. Three of his relatives worked in the local government who covered for the slaveholders. And we weren’t the only ones in this predicament – over at the neighboring farm they also held workers. Their conditions were even worse, they were fed animal fodder. There was a woman there who toiled away like Tatyana. The woman was impregnated by the master and they started beating her, hitting her in the stomach, so that she’d have a miscarriage, disfigured her face…

30. “One time, Tatyana managed to pass a note to one of the workers hired by the master. The person who got this note went to Karaganda and told his sister everything. Together with her brother, they returned to the village and took Tatyana. But at the nearest station, the shepherd’s son Yerzhan and his friends caught up with the escapees, forced Tatyana out of the car and beat her liberators. When the latter returned to the city, the local police pulled them over and told them not to stick their nose in other people’s business. Having returned to the city, they turned to the Department of Internal Affairs and a SWAT team came and for us and took me and Tatyana away but the master hid Volodya for another two months in the barracks. What a court case was launched against the farmers, the owner has to clean up Volodya, fatten him up, nurse him back to health. Before the trial, the Akzhunusovs tried to buy me off and promised that if I signed a statement, they would pay me 300,000 tenge. To which I answered that for 15 years they owe me no less than 3 million tenge. They refused to pay. The older Akzhunusov openly announced that ‘he would cut ten heads off and can buy anyone that he wants, including the courts.”

“In organizing a court session to take place at the village,” says Anna, “the courts did not exercise concern for the safety of the victims. Having seen the farm, where every room, barn, and handle from a shovel reminded the victims of how they were jeered at, they literally went into shock. Experiencing it all again brought them back to a state of fear and led to them not being able to objectively answer the judge’s questions. Of the three, only Tatyana was considered a victim in the criminal case according to article 126 (illegal deprivation of freedom). Judge Tokabekova sentenced Tursumbek Akzhunisov to a 3 year suspended sentence and his son Yerzhan to a 2 year suspended sentence. We learned that the judge lives in the same town as the accused and this causes difficulties in getting a fair verdict. But a “suspended” punished for 15 years of slavery it completely absurd. After the trial, we turned to the city court of appeals, but the outcome was similar to the first. Most interestingly, the prosecutor, speaking in court, was on the side of the guilty, saying that the victims of slavery wanted to extort money and the slave owners were decent people…

Most recently, the Komek Shelter received three victims of trafficking: a 35-year old woman from Tajikistan who is a victim of labor slavery and two minors, a 13 and 14-year old. The children were abducted and exploited in commercial slavery.

31.For those who want to help the center or consult with experts, here is their address: 1 Pushkin, Astana, Kazakhstan. Email: korgau_astana@mail.ru. State short number: 1409

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