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Tajikistan: Migrant Dangers And Dreams

Tajik women are migrating abroad in increasing numbers On 2 August, three men from Tajikistan returned home for the last time. A flight from Yekaterinburg, Russia, to Dushanbe, the Tajik capital, delivered the bodies of Ilhom Saidbekov and Subhiddin Mirzoev. An Interior Ministry official told RFE/RL's Tajik Service that Saidbekov, a 31-year-old resident of Vose, in southern Tajikistan, became ill and died in Omsk. Mirzoev, a 21-year-old from Jirgatol, was killed in an auto accident. The same day, a Novosibirsk-Khujand flight brought home the body of a man from Panjkent identified only as Yoqubov. He was 36 years old and killed under unknown circumstances.

All three men were labor migrants -- Tajiks who left for Russia in search of higher wages. They were not the only ones for whom the trip to Russia was the prelude to a final return. According to Tajikistan's Interior Ministry, the bodies of 155 Tajik labor migrants, 90 percent of them aged 13 to 35 and most of them residents of Khatlon Province, have been returned from Russia to Tajikistan in the first half of 2005. Khatlon Province, which borders on Afghanistan to the south, witnessed heavy fighting during Tajikistan's 1992-97 civil war, which destroyed the local economy and left a legacy of unemployment and underdevelopment.

For others, the quest for a living wage in Russia leads to prison. Official data from Russia's penitentiary system put the number of incarcerated Tajiks at 4,700, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. Of the 25,000 citizens from CIS countries now jailed in Russia, Tajiks are outnumbered only by 5,000 inmates from Ukraine, a country nearly 10 times as populous as Tajikistan.

Munira Nazarova, a representative of Migration and Law, a Russian-based organization that provides free legal services to migrants and refugees, told RFE/RL's Tajik Service that a recent study by the organization showed that most Tajik citizens are jailed for drug-related crimes and petty hooliganism. But she noted, "Among those who have been jailed for drug crimes, there are a lot of people who have been wrongly imprisoned. Most of the time, during a document check the police will put one or two grams of heroin in their pocket or bag and ask for a bribe. The ones who can't pay end up in jail."


Nazarova explained that migrant workers are ill equipped to defend themselves in unfamiliar circumstances. "The other biggest problem is that the migrants are not knowledgeable. They can't defend themselves because they don't know how or they don't know the language," she said. "Even those migrants who are prepared to defend themselves often can't hire a lawyer because they don't have the money. The cost of hiring a lawyer is several times more than the monthly income of a migrant construction worker.... Recently, the lawyer we hired resolved a case in the Nagatinskii district of someone who had been wrongly imprisoned."

Not all of the Tajik migrant workers who are unfortunate enough to end up behind bars are in Russia, and not all of them are men. On 22 July, RFE/RL's Tajik Service told the story of a group of Tajik women who returned home after spending time in jail in Dubai. The women, victims of human traffickers in a burgeoning global sex trade, appealed to Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov to take measures to deal with the problem. Nigina Muhammadjonova, a representative of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), told RFE/RL: "In their letter, these women asked the president to punish harshly those involved in human trafficking so that they no longer sell the honor and dignity of Tajik women for money."
"They can't defend themselves because they don't know how or they don't know the language."

The Tajik government has made efforts to help women victimized by human traffickers. Interior Minister Humdin Sharifov told journalists in July about a recent initiative. "At the president's request, a commission is now at work in the United Arab Emirates and it has already returned 12 women. These women are now undergoing treatment," Sharifov said. Foreign Minister Talbak Nazarov added, "Human trafficking, and especially the trafficking of women, is a serious problem that the government is dealing with. For 20 days now, a commission headed by one of my deputies has been in the UAE and is working to bring back Tajik citizens."

The IOM confirmed that by late July the government commission had helped to bring back 18 women from the United Arab Emirates. But many more may remain. Official statistics indicate that more than 200 Tajik women aged 18 to 30 are in Arab, Turkish, and Russian jails after falling victim to sex traffickers, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported.

Some Benefits

Despite the dangers, the prospect of better fortunes abroad continues to draw hundreds of thousands of Tajiks -- no one knows exactly how many, with conservative estimates putting their strength at 500,000. Not all of the stories end unhappily. In a 14 June report from Yekaterinburg, Russia, RFE/RL's Tajik Service detailed a mutually beneficial relationship between a landscaping company and Tajik migrant workers. Aleksandra Ivanova, the company's deputy director, said that she employs 100 migrant workers, with 80 of them classified as landscaping specialists, not merely day laborers. "The migrant workers in our company are mainly engaged in cutting down trees, weeding flowerbeds, planting flowers along city streets, and keeping them clean Their work is beneficial for the city," Ivanova explained.

Ivanova described herself as satisfied with her Tajik employees. She noted, however, that while the company takes pains to register its employees legally, police still harass them at times. Rahimjon Mirzoev, a Tajik who has been working for the firm for four years, told RFE/RL's Tajik Service his side of the story: "We go out to work at 6:30 a.m. Sometimes we get Saturday off and sometimes we get Sunday off. Our monthly salary is more than 6,000 rubles ($210). We have a good relationship with our bosses. If there's a problem, we talk to them, and they take care of it."

Women Migrants

Within the overall phenomenon of Tajik labor migration, new tendencies are seeming to emerge. Mukarrama Burhonova, who works at an IOM information center in Tajikistan, told RFE/RL's Tajik Service on 14 June that 40 percent of the 1,500 potential migrant workers who visited the center over the past two months were women. Six months ago, she said, the center received only 10-20 women a month. Now they number from 200 to 500. "The number of male migrant workers is very large, but women are not far behind, and women are more insistent about gathering information than men," Burhonova said.

Nozanin Huseynova, a woman from Dushanbe with eight children, came to the IOM center to find out what she could before departing for Russia for the first time. Beset by poverty, Huseynova said that going to Russia to work is the best solution to the problem of supporting her family and paying for her children's education. "Six of my children are studying in middle school or college. My husband is unemployed. My children don't have a chance to continue their education because middle school costs money, college costs money, and we can't afford it," Huseynova said. "The country's leaders don't spend a lot of time thinking about things like this, do they? But I see going to Russia as the way out of these everyday problems."

External labor migration -- from Tajikistan to Russia, for example -- can also prompt internal labor migration, as departing migrants create a labor vacuum at home. As RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported on 2 June, so many people have traveled from Jirgatol District to Rasht District that locals have taken to calling the latter "little Russia." Jirgatol residents prefer Rasht to Russia because it is closer to home, and they can still make $150-$200 a month working there. Jamshed, a local employer in Rasht, told RFE/RL that migrant laborers in Rasht are primarily engaged in construction and renovations in the houses of local residents who are themselves labor migrants in Russia.

But Russia remains the primary destination for Tajik labor migrants, who are often willing to sacrifice whatever they must to pave the way to what they hope will be a better future. Jonona, a young woman from Dushanbe, told RFE/RL's Tajik Service on 14 June that she sold her gold earrings and ring to help pay for her journey north. "My father and brother didn't give me permission to go to Russia. They say that it will end badly for me. But what am I supposed to do -- my life is hard," Jonona said. "I don't have a house. I live with three children in a dormitory and I pay 60 somonis ($19) a month in rent. This is why I want to go to Russia to work, so that I can come back and buy a house. I've got my foreign passport, but I don't have enough money to pay for the trip, and I don't know what I'm going to do."

See also:

"Migrants Seek Their Fortunes In Moscow, But Often Find Only Heartache"

"Teen Uses School As Springboard To A Better Life"

"Nasiba's Wedding Song"

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