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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

For Refugees, There Is No Place Like Andijan

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One year ago last week, hundreds of unarmed protesters were killed by Uzbek authorities in the eastern city of Andijan, eyewitnesses say. While President Vladimir Putin hosted Uzbek President Islam Karimov in Sochi, I flew down south to Osh, for an anniversary visit of my own.

As the An-24 plane I was in propelled its tiny self down out of the dramatic Tien Shan range, I spotted the muddy wash called the Karadariya River. I traced it west, toward the location of last year's refugee camp, where 500 people were housed in 10 canvas tents just over the border in Kyrgyzstan after escaping the violence.

I felt uneasy landing in Osh. It was here, one year ago, where I heard reports of the shooting and set out to find the first wave of refugees. It was here that the borders were left unguarded on the Uzbek side, when the policemen left their posts, presumably to whitewash nearby Andijan.

This time, I was to meet with a few of the Andijan survivors who are still waiting for the bureaucratic wheels to turn in their favor. These men also fled Uzbekistan just after the violence but made the mistake of not following the masses into the refugee camp on the north side of the Ferghana Valley, near Jalalabad. As a result, they missed the United States evacuation flights last summer.

One of the men I met with is living in a walled-in Uzbek-style home, with verdant gardens and trees. "I have the nicest place of any of the refugees," he said, beaming. But then he told me of how he had not seen his family in a year, and didn't even dare call them by telephone because Uzbek security forces might trace his whereabouts.

Another man I interviewed was visibly scared to meet. He trembled as he spoke, and at first had a short temper. His brother was in prison, and he said the police had harassed him. Despite his fears, he had walked to our meeting because he couldn't afford the 12-cent bus fare. It was not easy for me to tell him that, as a journalist obliged not to buy information, I could not give him money after he spoke with me.

At dinner, we had a pleasant conversation. He was very curious about America and told me that some of his friends who were resettled abroad had written to him that the people they met in their new homes were generous and friendly.

I asked him where he would chose to go, if he could live anywhere in the world. "Of course, I would most of all like to return to my homeland, Andijan," he told me.

Ethan Wilensky-Lanford is a freelance journalist based in Central Asia.