The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is holding a three-day workshop in Prague this week on the issue of migration within the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). The primary focus is on getting CIS countries to compile better statistics on migration and to share the data with their neighbors, so that appropriate regional policies can be formulated.
Prague, 5 June 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Following the breakup of the Soviet Union more than a decade ago, the successor states of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) have come under new migration pressures, both internal and external.
By virtue of their location, many CIS states have become transit countries for poor migrants making their way from Asia to Western Europe, while at the same time experiencing population shifts of their own. The implications could be dramatic for policymakers, but so far, too little data has been obtained and still less of that data are being shared. Organizers of this week's workshop on CIS migration trends in Prague hope the meeting will go toward changing this.
The dearth of reliable information on migration in the CIS was a leitmotif of the gathering. Andreas Hallbach, regional representative of the International Organization for Migration, cited Russia as one example where data on the number of illegal migrants vary wildly.
"Estimates oscillate between 1.5 [million] and around 10 million. I mean, what can you do with these kinds of figures? They are meaningless. To make policy with an estimate of 1.5 [million] or 10 million -- there are huge implications and huge differences, so it would be nice to have something better, something more reliable," Hallbach said.
Russia, ironically, was cited as one of the CIS countries with relatively good statistics. Vladimir Shkolnikov, migration adviser for the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), told journalists that in many CIS countries, even different government institutions are reluctant to share information with one another.
"It's not only confidence building among the countries [that's needed], it's often among different agencies as well. There are some agencies that collect, let's say, one piece of the puzzle and another will collect something else. And often it's a question of internal sensitivities: Do they want to share [data] with their counterparts in the same government? That also has been one of the topics that we've been touching on," Shkolnikov said.
While some CIS countries, such as Russia, have gained migrants, others, such as Armenia and Moldova, have experienced a net loss. Reliable estimates cited by Hallbach put the net loss in Armenia's population at 800,000 over the past decade, out of an original population of only 4 million.
What is not clear is how permanent that loss will be. Some parts of the former Soviet Union were known as net exporters of seasonal labor. Hallbach cited Tajikistan as one example. As long as the population shift was taking place in one country, with laborers moving from Central Asia to Russia -- within the Soviet Union -- little attention was paid to the phenomenon. But now that former republics such as Tajikistan have acquired independence, new barriers to migration have been erected, although policymakers have little idea as to how high those barriers should be set. Again, the need for data was stressed by Hallbach.
"The new borders have disrupted a lot of migration patterns and it needs to be reorganized, so in order for these governments to cooperate and develop better coordination, to develop their own policies, of course it's important to have some data, not anecdotal evidence," Hallbach said.
As Western European governments increasingly take measures to restrict immigration -- in recent days Italy, Britain, and Denmark have signaled they will be tightening conditions for asylum seekers -- the impact of migration is likely to be felt even more strongly by countries on the eastern fringe of the European Union.