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Central Asia: Labor Migration Seen As Beneficial To Region, Russia


http://gdb.rferl.org/B9D6FE67-A925-4F36-8BB0-27DDEAB6E5E0_w203.jpg --> http://gdb.rferl.org/B9D6FE67-A925-4F36-8BB0-27DDEAB6E5E0_mw800_mh600.jpg Tajik laborers working on a farm in Russia's Volgograd Oblast (file photo) (ITAR-TASS) PRAGUE, June 13, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- A Tajik goes to Russia to work; a Kyrgyz earns money in Kazakhstan and sends it home to Bishkek. Despite the negative images often associated with laborers seeking employment abroad, experts increasingly see positive aspects, as well. RFE/RL correspondent Richard Solash spoke with Claus Folden of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Vienna about migration patterns in the former Soviet Union.


RFE/RL: Overall, how would you characterize the state of migration today in the countries of the former Soviet Union?


Claus Folden: What is happening by movement nowadays [is that] a lot of labor migration takes place. And, of course, the strong and growing economy of, for instance, Russia, is attracting a lot of labor migrants from these other states. I mean, one example is that we have counted that up to approximately 700,000 Tajiks are working in Russia, legally or irregularly. So there is also a discussion on how to address the issue of regulating these people.


RFE/RL: And what of work migration within Central Asia itself? What are the trends there?


Folden: There is the example of Kazakhstan. Close to a million [people] were leaving, but because the economy in Kazakhstan is growing because of the oil there, it's also then attracting people. Where they were used to people leaving, they are now attracting a lot of labor migrants from the neighboring states.


RFE/RL: Experts on migration often speak of the so-called “brain drain,” in which a society is depleted of its educated or skilled members when they migrate to other nations. Is this also an issue that concerns the Eurasian region?


Folden: It's a concern that this happens, but at the same time, the discussion is evolving on the so-called "brain circulation" -- that you go abroad and you thereby achieve some skills and then eventually, at some point, you return.


RFE/RL: The term “remittances” refers to the money that migrants earn while working abroad that is then sent back to their country of origin. How important are remittances to the economies and societies of Central Asia?

"What we see now is that the countries are realizing that it's beneficial for their citizens, and thereby also for the state. So you [could one day] see Kyrgyzstan and Russia negotiating a labor-migration agreement for the benefit of both states. I mean, Kyrgyzstan has a surplus of people who could work and they would send back remittances, and Russia needs these workers."

Folden: Well, for Tajikstan [the remittances are] estimated to even be higher than the state budget. But what we then are trying to do is to pair the remittances that flow back, for instance, with micro-credit, small-business development, so that it's not only spent on consumption but [so] that it also has a positive effect in the societies that are having brain drain, so at least to sort of compensate for the fact that workers are abroad.


RFE/RL: This leads to the question of migration’s positive side. A study recently released by United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan stresses that while migration’s negative impact on societies is usually emphasized, it can also have very positive effects on all parties involved. Is this the case in Central Asia?


Folden: What we see now is that the countries are realizing that it's beneficial for their citizens, and thereby also for the state. So you [could one day] see Kyrgyzstan and Russia negotiating a labor-migration agreement for the benefit of both states. I mean, Kyrgyzstan has a surplus of people who could work and they would send back remittances, and Russia needs these workers. They have started realizing that migration is not only a negative phenomenon. And you see that in Russia, where there has been very much, from [Russian President Vladimir] Putin's side, for quite a while there was always this talk about controlling it. It was a control issue. Now it's much more like, "we need them; we have to regulate them; it's good for Russia that we have migrants workers here; they are helping our economy," and so on.


RFE/RL: And how high on the political agenda is the issue of migration in these countries?


A Tajik worker doing construction in Moscow (RFE/RL file photo)

Folden: It's high on the agenda in most countries. Of course, for different reasons. I mean, some countries would rather want their, for political reasons, would want their citizens to stay. Armenia is a good example. Armenia is doing a lot to have people stay and also come back. The Armenian diaspora plays a significant role in the political picture in Armenia.


RFE/RL: Any final guesses on the future of migration in this region of the world?


Folden: Slowly, but surely, everybody is realizing that it's a phenomenon that -- it's going to stay and you better deal with it. One day you might find yourself in a situation where you would compete over labor migrants where you before tried to keep people out.

A Bright Spot In A Dark Place
Uzbek women detained in a sweep by police in Jakarta in 2004 (epa)

LOOKING FOR HEROES: The U.S. State Department report on human trafficking includes a section titled "Heroes Acting To End Modern-Day Slavery." Among the 10 heroes singled out for mention was Uzbek citizen NODIRA KARIMOVA, head of the Tashkent office of the International Organization for Migration and founder of the NGO Istiqbolli Avlod. Here is how the State Department described Karimova's contribution to the struggle against trafficking:

HOTLINES, SHELTERS, ADVOCACY: Nodira Karimova’s NGO Istiqbolli Avlod has assisted over 300 victims and is operating a shelter for returned trafficking victims. Before the shelter opened, Ms. Karimova and her associates took returned victims into their own homes or even rented apartments for them as they began the process of readjustment. In addition, she has worked to expand the number of trafficking hotlines to 10, receiving over 13,000 calls in the last year. Karimova developed a strong working relationship with the Uzbek consul in the United Arab Emirates that has facilitated the repatriation of many Uzbek women. Ms. Karimova also helped organize training for the Uzbek consular officials stationed overseas in January 2005, which spread awareness and made clear to the consular officials that trafficking is a serious problem that demands serious action. She was instrumental in the decision to open additional shelters, one for sexually exploited victims and another for labor trafficking victims, which will open in 2006.

MEET THE NEWSMAKER: To read an interview with Karimova, click here.


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