So there are these Uzbeks in Timisoara. Some of you may recall that, back in May, there was some unrest in Uzbekistan. To make a complicated story short, the Uzbek government -- a dictatorship run by an unpleasant fellow named Islam Karimov -- gunned down several hundred protesters. The Uzbek government calls these people "terrorists", but most of them seem to have been unarmed civilians protesting against the regime.
I saw a few buses in front of us that blocked the road. People pushed one of them aside and made their way through. The shooting resumed. I heard a scream behind me. I looked back and saw a man with half of his head. The shooting became heavier. The number of wounded was more than those killed. They fired at us with all kinds of weapons. There were [red] tracer bullets. People got down on the ground and the shooting stopped. Then we got up and walked again. After we walked twenty meters the shooting resumed... Just a hundred meters ahead, APCs were parked across the road, effectively blocking the main escape route of the crowd, and trapping the crowd in a sniper alley. In front of the APCs, soldiers were laying down on the ground behind sandbags. As the first group reached this area, they were wiped out by the fire from the APCs, the soldiers behind sandbags, and soldiers shooting from the roofs of nearby apartments. The second group similarly came under heavy fire, causing massive casualties. “As we moved ahead on Cholpon Prospect, we saw the APCs and the soldiers lying down in front of them,” one survivor from the second group stated. “We were just shocked. It was like a bowling game, when the ball strikes the pins and everything falls down. There were flashes from the APCs, there were bodies everywhere. I don’t think anyone in front of us survived,” he said.Thousands of people fled from the killings. Most didn't get out of the country, but some did. Of those, the single biggest group to leae the region -- 439 men, women and children -- ended up in Romania, in an internment camp near Timisoara. This is a rather odd place for them to be, but on the other hand it makes a certain amount of sense. Moving them directly from Uzbekistan to, say, Britain or the US might be somewhat disorienting. And the Romanians -- perhaps from having lived under a government that was perfectly willing to shoot protestors -- have been pretty sympathetic. Most of the 439 Uzbeks are men, but there are about 70 women and 30 children. Some are in family groups, but most are not. The Karimov regime has declared them all to be "terrorists", so they're not going home any time soon. They are refugees, and will have to be settled... somewhere. They don't have a clear destination yet. Good news: dozens of people have volunteered to provide medical care, orientation, and to teach the refugees English. This includes both Romanians and Americans. There are former American Peace Corps volunteers who have offered to pay their own way to Romania in order to help the Uzbeks. Less good: the refugees are in a compound, and are allowed only limited contact with Romanians. They're not being allowed to do anything productive. One donor offered them several sewing machines, so that they could sew winter clothes for themselves. This was good, but then the refugees wanted to know if they could make clothes for sale here in Romania. (Apparently Uzbek women are famous for this.) They were told no -- refugees can't engage in commercial activity. This seems like one of those rules that has a good underlying reason, but may be misapplied in this particular case. Anyway. This story hasn't been reported on much, but the Uzbeks have been here for a couple of months now, and will probably be here until at least the end of this year. After that... well, it's up in the air, really. Some kind country will have to offer to take them in. (But this story does mark an interesting milestone here. Romania, a country that was producing refugees just fifteen years ago, is now a country that receives them.)