Deported From Uzbekistan!

Deported from the Republic of Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan is one of only two doubly landlocked countries in the world – a landlocked country surrounded by landlocked countries (the other is Lichtenstein). Yet somehow we managed to land ourselves in hot water there. Throughout the trip we have managed to evade scrapes with the law but this time it was serious.

Visitors to Uzbekistan must acquire OVIR (office of visa and registration or more simply police) registration if they stay in one place for more than 72 hours – you must register within that time. This is usually done by the hotel you stay at but as poor cycle tourists we try and avoid hotels. We were very relieved to be able to stay with a friends parents in Tashkent whilst we obtained our Kyrgyzstan and Chinese visas. Staying in a hotel for two weeks would be costly but our generous hosts Eskender and Zarema welcomed us freely into their home. OVIR registration can be gained when staying with a host but it usually leads to unwanted attention from the authorities on the kind people who take you in. Therefore I decided to get fake registration from a hotel for a small backhander.

After a week in Tashkent I took a locals advice and went to the hotel at the train station and subtly asked there. Things seemed to be going well as she receptionist smiled, agreed and took some details. She then put her coat on and led me out of the door. I asked where we were going to which she replied OVIR, I responded that would not be a good idea. She so soothingly said ‘no problem’ that I continued with her assuming she had a friend there who would help.

A few minutes later she left me in a room with a man who began asking questions and I began to worry about my predicament. I was still not sure if he was going to give me some snide registration though. When he took me through to another room where a large man in a starched uniform with a serious face sat I really began to grow concerned. It soon became clear that I was in trouble so, I sat quietly and tried to rationalise in my head what to do. It occurred to me that I had walked into their office so I played dumb and asked for the forms to register myself. This tactic did not work and after an hour Inspector Sargeant Sanjarbek Xoshimovich took me to the main OVIR office (ironically close to our hosts house where I had previously gone to ask for directions).

I was told to wait for an hour or two until a translator arrived. In the mean time some mad woman began practising her English on me telling me Thailand was part of the UK, that Paris was in England and that she was single and did I happen to be married?? As I sat and waited I kept replaying the events in my head and berrating myself for walking into the police office at the train station. What a muppet. Although I was concerned about what would happen to me (I had not mentioned Andy so was hoping he would avoid this) I was really angry with myself for having dragged my hosts into this. They were bound to get in more trouble than me yet they had been nothing but wonderfully kind to Andy and I.

Two hours later Eskender was brought in and given a grilling by the head honcho. As he aggressively asked Eskender questions I was getting more and more angry with the officer but Eskender performed wonderfully. He keep eye contact at all times and frequently dropped in a funny comment and smiled or laughed back at the officer which relieved the tension. After half an hour we returned to Inspector Sanjarbek’s office. I asked if I could have my passport back to collect my Kyrgyz visa which was waiting for me at the consulate but he told me to forget about Kyrgyzstan, I would be deported back to the UK. I felt sick. It was the 14th of February but I felt totally unloved.

Back at Eskender and Zarema’s house they assured me they were not in trouble but I wondered if they were sugar coating it. I lay my head on the table and let sleep relieve me of the woe filling my head. We actually managed to have fun that night as we dinned at Sergey’s house, a friendly neighbour with a son, Pawel in his 20’s who speaks English. We feasted on plov a local staple of rice with veg and meat. This dish was supposedly created by Alexander the Great to fuel his troops for battle. It certainly gave us strength for the fight ahead. After eating Sergey played guitar and sang some Russian songs whilst we drank homemade wine. The best tipple in Uzbekistan Sergey claimed!

The following morning we were about to head off to the British Embassy to see if they could help when Inspector Sanjarbek called and told us to come in. Eskender had mentioned Andy the previous day and they wanted to hold his passport too. Sanjarbek then surprised me by giving me my passport back and telling me to go and collect the Kyrgyz visa. I swiftly and gratefully followed this order. This seemed to indicate they would deport us to Kyrgyz rather than the UK. A much better solution for us.

We were placed under ‘house arrest’ for the next couple of days. I was told we could have been held in cells at the OVIR office but we could return to Eskender’s house so long as we stayed there. Two days later we were called back in and interrogated by what I can only imagine was the secret police. Andy and I were separated and each given a one hour grilling with some very odd questions: “what did I know about the Iranian nuclear programme”, “am I a politician”, “am I Muslim”. They even asked Andy if he knew of or was part of a terrorist organisation! To be fair though his beard is pretty unruly. We both survived the onslaught and were informed that we would be picked up tomorrow and driven to the Kyrgyz border by the police.

Packed and ready the following morning we said our farewells to Eskender and Zarema and once again apologised for the trouble we had caused. Our twelve bags and two bikes were stuffed into a family saloon car and we began the 250 mile pneumatic drill ride. The seriosuly potholed roads were in danger of breaking our bike frames which hung half way out of the boot. At about 11.30 we pulled over for lunch and the two officers asked if we wanted some vodka. This is not unusual in these parts. Vodka is drunk more or less like water. I cant speak with experience as I have never been deported before but it struck me as unusual to ‘get on the vodka’ with your police escort. However Andy and I both quickly said yes. By mid-day we had consumed 1L of vodka (the driver only had a few bowls – best to be cautious right?) and we were rocking, banter was flowing and we were all friends. We drove on stopping only for a few photos in the mountains. That night we picked up where lunch had left off drinking vodka and cognac over a grand dinner.

We slept our final night in Uzbek just before the border and early the next morning were escorted through the crowds of puzzled locals queuing to get into Kyrgyz. Our passports were stamped, additionally we got an extra stamp confirming that we had been deported for a breech of regulations. As we wandered across no mans land chuckling to ourselves it dawned on me that we were about to embark upon the toughest leg of the trip through the brutally cold, imperiously tall mountains of Kyrgyzstan.

We have now cycled 8,000 miles and are over half way to Sydney. Impressed? Why not pop just a couple of pounds here to help children in War Zones: http://www.justgiving.com/thecyclediaries alternatively order a postcard here: http://www.thecyclediaries.com/postcard/

7 Responses to “Deported From Uzbekistan!”

  1. Samantha says:

    I am appalled that you should treat the laws of a country you are visiting, and your hosts, in such a cavalier manner.
    You can imagine the outcry should an Uzbek be caught flouting British immigration controls on the same way.
    You should be ashamed of yourself.

    • Matt says:

      Hi Samantha,

      Firstly thanks for your comment, we value all feedback both positive and negative.

      Let me first say that neither Andy nor I are perfect, far from it. We are human just like the rest of us and make mistakes from time to time. That said our absolute priority was that of our hosts, Eskender and Zarema. They were incredibly kind, offered much and asked for nothing.

      As mentioned in my post, research showed that registering our hosts with OVIR would most likely lead to trouble for Eskender and Zarema with the authorities. We therefore took the decision (rightly or wrongly) to not go down this route.

      We made the best decision we could with the information we had at the time. I will reiterate once more that our focus was not to put our hosts out in any way. We stand by this decison because of our intentions and the info we had.

      I dont expect that you will change your opinion but I wanted to make clear the thinking behind our actions.

      We have checked on Eskender and Zarema a couple of times since we left and I am pleased to say they are both fine and well.

      • Samantha says:

        Thank you for replying to my comment. Obviously I hope, like you, that your hosts do not suffer as a result of your decision. And yes, I still maintain my basic position, on which you did not comment – you should respect the laws of the countries you visit. If you cannot do that, you should choose a different route.

        • Matt says:

          My pleasure Samantha. There have been no repercussions for Eskender and Zarema I am pleased to say.

          I fully agree with your assertion that you should respect the laws (and also culture) of the countries you visit. If you have read our story from the start you will know that that is something that is important to us. It is in my stated aims (on the about page) to learn about the history and culture of each country.

          Of course we know that in this instance what we did was against the law. We make this clear and we have not tried to hide it. This comes back to the fact that we wanted to protect our hosts and we believed following the letter of the law might have landed them in trouble. We felt more responsibility to the very kind people who housed and fed us than the government which at best is questionable and at worst a brutal corrupt dictatorship. This does not change the fact that we broke the law but we felt justified in doing so in this instance.

          The world is not black and white but shades of grey. Wild camping is illegal in most countries but if we were not to do this we would be unable to complete this trip due to the cost of staying in hotels. I am sure you would agree it is better that we have made this journey and already raised over 17,000 GBP for children living in war zones rather than to never have set off?

  2. Steven says:

    Sad to read this story: how are your hosts doing now? I am making a website to help people avoid this kind of situations. I knew it is a bad idea to fake-register, but I will definitely add your story to my site. In the meantime, if you need help on finding some bike repair in Central Asia, try here: http://www.caravanistan.com/transport/cycling/shops-bike-repair/

    • Matt says:

      Hi Steven, Eskender and Zarema are well thanks. We have checked a couple of times and they keep telling us they miss us!
      Thanks for the info, very useful. We are now across in Sichuan province in China but I will pass the info on.

  3. Sounds like a pretty scary incident. Great job on getting through okay!

    I’m gonna be facing this myself next year.

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