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Mass Migration Threatens Stability in Post-Soviet Lands

Prague, May 23 (RFE/RL) - People are on the move within and between the post-Soviet countries. Millions of them. And mass migrations are likely to continue there for years to come.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) today made public a report, which said that more than nine-million former Soviet citizens -- one-in-30 of the total ex-Soviet population -- have moved away from their homes during the past seven years.

Most people (about three-millions) have fled fighting. They have been escaping violent conflicts in the Caucasus region (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Abkhazia, Georgia, Chechnya) and other parts of the former Soviet Union (Moldova, Tajikistan). These conflicts continue.

Others have been returning from forced deportations ordered many decades ago by Josef Stalin. Entire nations had been moved then: Chechens and Volga Germans, Crimean Tartars and Georgian Meskhetians, Ukrainian and Belarusian Poles. About three-million people. Many of the survivors are now moving back; the report puts their number at more than one-million.

Still others are victims of ecological disasters: major catastrophes like the radiation in the Semipalatinsk nuclear testing area in Kazakhstan, the Chernobyl explosion in Ukraine and the drying of the Aral Sea, which affected both Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. The report says nearly a million (700,000) people have been involved in these moves.

And there are countless others. Mostly those escaping potential or real ethnic and/or political discrimination prompted by the breakup of the Soviet empire and the emergence of new states. The collapse of the Soviet Union is said to have left about sixty (60)-million people stranded outside of their ethnic "home" lands.

The report does not cover population movements in search of a better life amid economic decline. It also does not include people migrating outside the old Soviet borders. But it makes clear that the migrations between and within the former Soviet lands have been largely involuntary, creating a major threat to regional economic and political stability.

Russia appears to be the most affected, having been forced to cope with millions of newly arriving ethnic Russian who have been uprooted from other post-Soviet republics. In addition, Russia is facing an increasing problem of having to deal with hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants from the post-Soviet lands and other Asian countries, many of whom are trying to find a way to the West.

The report calls the post-Soviet migrations "astonishing in scale." It says that there still may be more than 150 territorial conflicts rooted in ethnic disputes in the once Soviet area. All those conflicts could well prompt new migratory movements. The report also says that if such movements are not halted, they could eventually endanger "global security."

Next week (May 30-31) the UNHCR, the International Organization for Migration, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe will host a conference on the problems of migration within the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

The conference was initially proposed by Russia. It is designed to map plans for the CIS countries on how to cope with migrations in a way that will help "to increase stability in a potentially dangerously unstable region."

This is, admittedly, a costly and difficult task. And the goal certainly will not be reached any time soon.