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Remittances From Russia Vital To Kyrgyz Stability

  • Farangis Najibullah

Elnur Kadyrova shares a Moscow apartment with 10 other women from her native Kyrgyzstan. She recently found work as a supermarket shopkeeper, and usually works seven days a week.

It's not an easy existence, but Kadyrova doesn't want to go back to Kyrgyzstan anytime soon. Russia offers her the potential to earn far more than she could at home, and she regularly sends between $300 and $600 each month to support her family in Bishkek.

"Salaries are small in Kyrgyzstan. They pay around $130-$160 a month at best," Kadyrova says. "I make much more here. Since I work without weekend breaks, I get paid more -- around $1,000 a month for 30 days' work."

By seeking work abroad, Kadyrova became part of a growing trend among workers from Kyrgyzstan, where political and social instability has contributed to economic uncertainty. According to the Kyrgyz National Bank, remittances from migrant workers in Russia and elsewhere exceeded $900 million in the first 10 months of this year. That is about $157 million more than Kyrgyz migrants sent home in all of 2009, contributing greatly to the revenue of the country of 5.5 million, which has an annual budget of about $1.36 billion.

For many families, remittances are the main source of income; in the wake of Kyrgyzstan's recent political and ethnic unrest, they are even more crucial to the impoverished nation's social and financial stability.

Greater Good?

Some experts believe that actual figures could be higher than official figures suggest, since many migrants send money home with relatives and friends instead of through traceable bank or post-office transfers.

The majority of Kyrgyz migrant laborers work in Russia, whose Federal Migration Agency says more than 380,000 Kyrgyz nationals have entered Russia in search of jobs since January. The true number of migrants working at Russian construction cites, markets, factories, and in the agriculture industry is believed to be much higher -- perhaps 600,000, according to Kyrgyz media and some NGO estimates.

Tens of thousands of Kyrgyz also work in neighboring Kazakhstan and, in recent years, many have sought work in Turkey as well as Europe and the United States.

Chingiz Makeshov, who heads the Kyrgyz Union of Entrepreneurs, laments that remittances sent home to support families don't contribute to the greater good.

He suggests that private investments into small and medium-sized businesses could both contribute to the country's economic development and create new jobs. That could also pave the way to sustainable sources of income for migrants, Makeshov says.

"If that billion dollars in remittances were invested in the economy, it could give a heavy boost to our country's development," he says. "So far, remittances are only used for migrants' families' everyday needs."

Lack Of Trust

However, Nurbek Tashbekov, an economist at the Bishkek-based Central Asian Free Market Institute, says a lack of faith in government or the country's future stability prevents migrants from looking beyond their families' immediate needs.

Transparency International in 2010 listed Kyrgyzstan as among the world's 15 most corrupt states, and it has been one of the most politically unstable countries in Central Asia in recent years.

Its last two presidents were overthrown in popular uprisings, and the country has been run by transitional leaders since President Kurmanbek Bakiev fled in April. More than two months after parliamentary elections, Kyrgyz lawmakers are still struggling to form a coalition government.

The uncertainty leads people like Kadyrova to believe their families will be dependent on remittances for many years to come.

"It's not easy to work and live in Russia, but I've no choice but to stay here," Kadyrova says. "My family back at home depends on the money I send from Moscow."

RFE/RL Kyrgyz Service correspondent Ulan Eshmatov contributed to this report
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