The following article was contributed by the Embassy of Uzbekistan in Seoul for publication by The Korea Post media, publisher 3 English and 2 Korean-language news publications since 1985.—Ed.
Despite the negative aspects of the coronavirus pandemic, which affected almost all countries of the world, experts, journalists and bloggers in the world community often raise another question - How states can and should support their citizens who find themselves in zones of armed conflict, mostly in the Middle East and also in Afghanistan?
Alarming here is the UN assessment, where, according to their data, about 27,000 foreign children are being held in camps in northeastern Syria, 90 percent of whom have not yet reached the age of 12.
Naturally, the task is not easy, but feasible, given that everyone has the right to rely on the help and support of the state. And their number, according to various estimates, is more than 50, whose citizens are and live in conditions of incessant hostilities. And how have states acted and are acting to support citizens who, by mistake, found themselves in the composition of destructive organizations, as well as their return to a peaceful life and full-fledged social adaptation in society?
Uzbekistan's actions in this direction, without exaggeration, can be called one of the most exemplary, which receives support from the public and worldwide recognition in the world community.
Facts and figures speak for themselves. Since 2019, on behalf of the President of Uzbekistan, humanitarian operations called «Mehr» («Kindness») have been implemented, aimed at organizing measures to return compatriots, in particular from the countries of the Middle East, held in camps in the territories of incessant hostilities. So far, five stages of the «Mehr» humanitarian operation have been implemented.
Thus, within the framework of the humanitarian operations «Mehr-1» and «Mehr-2», 220 women and children were returned to the country. In December 2020, 25 women and 73 children were returned to the country from Syria as part of the «Mehr-3» humanitarian operation. In March 2021, Uzbekistan conducted another fourth humanitarian operation «Mehr-4» to repatriate its citizens. In particular, 24 people from Afghanistan were returned to their homeland.
In the blessed month of Ramadan, as a result of operation «Mehr-5», carried out with the support of the United States and other partner countries, 24 women and 69 children were returned to Uzbekistan. They were held for more than 3 years in the «Al-Khol» camp, previously trapped in «hot spots» in Syria.
In general, within the framework of humanitarian operations, 531 people were returned to their homeland from the combat zones.
This process was carried out in a natural way, without the coercion of citizens. Each compatriot, refusing destructive ideas, decided to return to their homeland on their own.
For all compatriots who returned within the framework of these humanitarian operations, the state created the necessary conditions for their return to a peaceful life and full-fledged social adaptation in society, access to educational and other social programs, including through the provision of adequate housing and employment.
One of the key features of this humanitarian work is that all compatriots who have returned to their homeland are provided with all the necessary conditions, in particular, food products, medical, psychological, moral, material and legal assistance. Special attention is paid to the execution of documents proving the identity of the returnees. Well, it is also important to remind that some of them have already been allocated mortgage loans for the purchase of housing. Many of them were joyfully greeted by their relatives and returned to their homes and loved ones.
Children who have suffered spiritual and physical suffering as a result of being in zones of armed conflict are placed in wellness facilities, where they are provided with food and clothing, they receive comprehensive medical, psychological and social assistance.
In addition, children will be placed in preschool educational institutions and schools, with guardians and sponsors assigned to them.
It should be noted that the children of families, being in hot spots, on the one hand faced moral, psychological and physical difficulties, on the other hand, they were left without support and attention. This is the relevance and timeliness of measures taken by Uzbekistan to return them to their homeland. With such efforts, women and children were saved from the shackles of terrorists, and the possible replenishment of their ranks with new recruits was prevented, which could increase the threats to the world community, including the countries of Central Asia.
This gives reason to believe that the experience of Uzbekistan in organizing work on the return of compatriots and their comprehensive support is being implemented, on the one hand, taking into account the interests of all citizens, on the other, on the basis of international law and principles of cooperation with foreign partners, including international organizations.
Commenting on the effective actions of Uzbekistan, UN Deputy Secretary General, Head of the Counter-Terrorism Directorate V. Voronkov expressed gratitude to the leadership of Uzbekistan for well-organized humanitarian operations to return women and children who immediately underwent medical and rehabilitation procedures. In his opinion, «the experience of Uzbekistan is an exemplary example of many other countries that are not yet ready to make a decision to return their citizens back».
In this regard, as well as taking into account the UN estimates, it should be noted with confidence that the accumulated experience of Uzbekistan in supporting citizens returning from zones of armed conflict, which is already indicative and gaining worldwide recognition, should become an example for other countries and the entire world community.