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Central Asia Report: October 13, 2004

13 October 2004, Volume 4, Number 38

THE WEEK AT A GLANCE. Updated preliminary results for Kazakhstan's 19 September parliamentary elections only burnished the luster on the strong pro-presidential showing. Old pro-presidential party Otan will field at least 43 delegates in the 77-seat Mazhilis, new pro-presidential party Asar four, and the pro-presidential AIST bloc of the Civic and Agrarian Parties 11 delegates. The moderate opposition party Ak Zhol garnered a single seat. Seventeen independents, some of whom are likely affiliated with various parties, will also attend the first session of parliament on 1 December. On another front, the military held its Zhetisu-2004 counterterrorist exercise in the south. The Kazakh-Russian Intergovernmental Cooperation Commission drew up documents on the Baikonur cosmodrome and auto-insurance standards to be signed at a later date. And Iranian diplomats were out in force, as President Nursultan Nazarbaev discussed bilateral measures to fight terrorism and drug trafficking with Hassan Rowhani, secretary-general of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, and Prime Minister Daniyal Akhmetov spoke with Iranian Commerce Minister Mohammad Shariatmadari about the possibility of moving Kazakh oil to market through Iranian seaports.

Kyrgyzstan held elections to local councils, with 11,000 candidates running for more than 6,000 seats. Russia pledged that it will up personnel numbers at its Kant air base to 1,000 by the end of 2004, adding more fighter aircraft and helicopters along the way. Rights activists protested an Antimonopoly Department finding that the newspaper "MSN" had tried to undercut competition with unfairly low prices. And reports said that Kyrgyzstan and the United States signed an accord in September agreeing not to hand over each other's citizens to the International Criminal Court without prior permission. As a result, American military personnel at the U.S. air base in Manas, Kyrgyzstan, will not fall under the International Criminal Court's jurisdiction (unless they are charged with genocide, crimes against humanity, or war crimes).

Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov traveled to the Czech Republic and Luxembourg. Back home, the Russian-language weekly "Vechernii Dushanbe" lost a libel case and will have to pay "moral damages" to a city-court official. With parliamentary elections looming in February 2005, the deputy chairman of the ruling People's Democratic Party of Tajikistan said that, in his humble opinion, 70 percent of Tajik voters will cast their ballots for the status quo his party represents. And Tajikistan became the 182nd member of Interpol.

Turkmenistan's long-awaited fourth channel began broadcasting in Turkmen, Arabic, Chinese, English, Farsi, French, and Russian. Although the new channel's purported purpose is to "disseminate truthful information about Turkmenistan," additional details were sketchy.

The Islamic Development Bank plans to finance four infrastructure projects in Uzbekistan for a total of $52.6 million. In a separate and unrelated project, a center for studying and measuring radioactivity opened at the Institute of Nuclear Physics in Tashkent. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Political and Military Affairs Lincoln Bloomfield and Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Andy Hoen met with President Islam Karimov and other high-ranking officials. A court in Tashkent sentenced 15 people to prison sentences ranging from three to 15 years for their ties to March-April terrorist attacks. Amnesty International condemned Uzbekistan (and Belarus) as "the last countries from the former Soviet Union that carry out the death penalty." Tohir Yuldosh, leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and a prime candidate for the death penalty should Uzbek authorities ever capture him, appeared in a videotape the BBC said was recorded this year. He promised that the forces of worldwide jihad would soon see America go the way of the Soviet Union.

LABOR MIGRATION: MASSES ON THE MOVE. The forces that drive people across Eurasia have changed, but the masses are still on the move. Conquest sparked migration in past centuries. Under the Soviets, the state displaced entire peoples to satisfy the shifting exigencies of ideology. Today, the market's invisible hand moves millions to seek higher wages in Russia.

Igor Yunash, deputy head of Russia's Federal Migration Service, shared unofficial data on Tajik migrant workers in Russia with Tajikistan's Avesta news agency on 28 September. According to information from local police precincts and the collation of entry and exit statistics at border crossings, Russia is now home to 600,000-800,000 illegal migrants from Tajikistan. In all, Russia hosts some 5 million illegal migrant workers, Yunash said. The Russian official noted that his country's economy has a ravenous demand for the cheap labor that nearby CIS countries can provide, adding, "We feel that temporary labor migration benefits Russia."

But even if their labors benefit Russia, Yunash admitted that migrant workers, 90 percent of whom lack legal status, face myriad difficulties. A 4 October investigative article in Russia's "Novaya gazeta" detailed some of those troubles. Twenty-year-old Abdulhamid Abdurashidov came to Russia from Tajikistan because he couldn't feed his extended family of 10 on a $5 monthly salary. Although he obtained legal registration in Russia, it did him little good. Police asked to see his documents in a routine check on 9 June 2004 and promptly tore up his registration papers. Soon after, a court sentenced him to be deported.

But Abdurashidov was not deported. Instead, he fell into a nether world of detention centers for illegal migrants slated for eventual deportation. After enduring months of beatings and mistreatment, he attempted suicide on 9 September. His sister, who had been seeking him without success, finally found him in a hospital.

Karomat Sharipov, the director of an information center for the Tajik diaspora, told "Novaya Gazeta" that detainees suffer humiliation and extortion. "The treatment of people in the Migration Service's detention centers is worse than that of prisoners in Iraq!" he said. "Judge for yourself. The prisoners, and there's no other term for them, get three pieces of bread a day. There's no medical care. The centers are overcrowded. The center on Dmitrovskii Highway is designed for 350; it holds 960 people. They're packed in 40-60 to a cell. There's no real ventilation. Moreover, the staff abuses them and beats them." According to Sharipov, "rates" range from 50 rubles ($1.71) for a two-minute phone call to $200-$300 to go free.

Citing unofficial statistics, the article stated that more than 40,000 Tajiks were deported from Russia in 2003. Estimates vary widely, however. "Gazeta" reported on 20 September 2004 that 9,000 foreigners, including 2,500 Tajiks, have been deported from Russia since the beginning of 2004.

Ilya Kriger, the author of the article in "Novaya Gazeta," told RFE/RL's Tajik Service on 4 October that political practice in Russia and Tajikistan exacerbates the sufferings of migrant workers. "The constant stream of human rights violations that we see in Moscow and other Russian cities doesn't surprise me," he said. "In my view, Tajikistan and Russia don't really care about how their ordinary people live. They're just a plaything in the hands of opportunistic politicians. The plan to introduce tighter restrictions on foreigners traveling to Russia simply confirms the truth of this once again, in my view." Meanwhile, Boghshoh Lashkarbek, who heads a Tajik organization in Moscow, told RFE/RL's Tajik Service that the Tajik community has had trouble defending itself in part because it has had difficulty organizing itself. "Unfortunately, we have been unable to create a centralized structure," he said. "This would require a competent individual with political weight in both the community and among Russian officials. The problem is that everyone cannot agree on a single candidate."

Tajiks are not the only Central Asians to fall victim to mass deportations. RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported on 29 September that 200 Uzbek citizens were deported from Moscow to Uzbekistan on 23 September. Javlon Boymatov, one of the deportees, recounted his story. Boymatov had arrived in Russia from Tashkent with 14 comrades 1 1/2 years earlier. Although they lacked proper documents, they did whatever work they could find in the city of Ivanovo, from guard duty to meatpacking. The police finally hauled them in on 5 August, and a court sentenced them to 10 days of detention.

"When the court-ordered detention period ended, they didn't let us go," Boymatov said. "They said we would have permission to go home if our friends would buy us a ticket. We spent 50 days there. During that time, we weren't allowed to make a telephone call or to meet with people who came to see us. We weren't allowed to hire a lawyer either." When they departed, the deportees received a stamp in their passport barring them from reentering Russia for five years. When a group of 60 migrant workers returned to Dushanbe in January 2004 under similar circumstances, their passports also bore stamps barring reentry for five years, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on 21 January. But the newspaper also noted that the city of Moscow funded the deportation, which suggests that local authorities in Ivanovo may have had their own reasons for trying to convince deportees to fund their own travel home.

Migrant workers need not wait for deportation to find themselves under detention. A manager at a Moscow firm described to "Kompaniya" on 14 June 2004 (No. 14) the lives of migrant workers employed in construction: "The workers live in dormitories under guard," the manager said. "They're brought to the sites in buses under guard, and they're forbidden to talk to strangers." Other forms of detention are less overt. At the Chelyabinsk Cement Factory, 40 Tajiks lived in barracks and worked molding concrete panels and slabs, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on 26 May 2004. They received a monthly salary of 2,000-3,000 rubles ($69-$103) minus 30 ration cards at 25 rubles each, a total deduction of 750 rubles. The company store provided additional groceries, albeit at the price of additional deductions from wages. "Profil" reported on 27 September that the Interior Ministry's Chief Directorate constantly finds "real slaves -- Azerbaijanis or Tajiks who build elite housing with no hope of ever getting a salary. These slaves work for room and board; their passports are taken away for added security."

Meanwhile, officials in Sverdlovsk Oblast hope to create a "filtration center" to house future migrant workers, "Vremya novostei" reported on 7 October. Vladimir Vorotnikov, head of the Interior Ministry's Chief Directorate for the region, told the newspaper that the directorate plans to acquire vacant military facilities by the end of October. "In this military unit, we'll create a center to take in everyone who arrives from the near and far abroad as a 'guest worker,'" he said. Andrei Kabanov, who heads a local anti-migrant group that advocates the introduction of visas for Tajiks, objected to "Vremya novostei," "We're amazed at this idea, which these generals are so taken with, to create a reservation for collecting money from Tajiks. What you'll get is some kind of concentration camp. They come, they're counted like sheep -- collect money, force them to work, collect more money...."

What sort of work induces people to endure these conditions? A reporter for "Novye izvestiya" went undercover to find out for an article on 11 June 2004. When she told "Zhenya the Ukrainian" at a Moscow market that a male friend hoped to work as a janitor, she got a job description: "The salary is 4,500 [rubles/month]. But if your friend doesn't work for a whole month, even if there's one day left, he won't get a kopek. We work without days off or holidays -- from 6 a.m. until 11 p.m. or midnight, sometimes later. Sometimes we have to wake everybody up in the middle of the night, for example, if the market gets snowed in. If you skip days or if I catch a whiff of booze, you're gone; no ifs, ands, or buts. If you're running a fever or have something else, we don't consider that illness. Illness is if you get an arm or a leg cut off."

Most accounts present a uniformly dismal picture of conditions. Salaries vary. "Novye izvestiya" reported on 25 February 2004 that Tajiks who haul and carry wares at Moscow markets can make $500 a month minus fees for the use of carts and bribes to policemen to avoid harassment over documents. An 8 July 2004 article in "Rossiiskie vesti" reported that migrant workers in Klin earned 3,000-5,500 rubles a month. A Tajik migrant worker told "Profil" on 27 September that construction workers can make $800-$1,000 over the course of the May-October season in Moscow. A man from Azerbaijan told "Profil" that he makes 9,000 rubles a month working from 9 a.m. until midnight in a store. Margarita Avdeeva, the director of Ronovoa Cleaning, told "Kompaniya" on 14 June 2004 that migrant workers employed as janitors in Moscow get 6,000 rubles a month. "Novye izvestiya" reported on 10 February that Russia's Labor Ministry estimates that the average foreign worker earns $500 a month.

Whatever the salary, the point is to send a hefty chunk of the money home. The International Organization for Migration estimates that the average migrant worker sends $80 a month back to his or her family, "Kompaniya" reported on 14 June. "Novye izvestiya" described the procedure on 11 June: "The police frequently rob couriers at the train stations, so the person who goes to the station with the workers' salaries is well-dressed and has a Moscow registration. He gives the train conductor the money in envelopes with the names and passport information of the recipients. The conductor hides the money under her skirt in a special pouch; she gets paid for this. One skirt like this can take up to $20,000 abroad. Monthly salaries in construction range from $150 to $1,500. When the train arrives, the guest workers' wives are there. They show the conductor their passports and pick up their money."

The money comes primarily from Russia's construction and service industry. According to "Kompaniya," 55 percent of migrant workers work in commerce or construction. "Novye izvestiya" provided the following "unofficial statistics": "39 percent in construction, 16 percent in street commerce, 10 in industry, and the rest in public transportation, utilities, agriculture." A 14 July article in "Russkii kurer" showed the ethnic and economic breadth of the phenomenon. Raids in the Tula Oblast led to the deportation of 50 citizens of Tajikistan, Syria, Romania, and Azerbaijan. They had been employed sewing slippers at a Vietnamese-owned firm, producing chocolate for a Russian-Syrian joint venture, and making parts from nonferrous metals at a local plant.

Most studies put the total number of migrant workers at around 5 million, with 1 million-1.5 million working in the Moscow region. All research stresses that the vast majority of migrant workers lack required employment authorizations and work illegally; many lack any legal status at all. For now, the bulk of migrant workers in Russia come from CIS countries like Tajikistan. But that could change in the near future. Zhanna Zayonchkovskaya, head of the migration laboratory at the Institute for Economic Forecasting, told "Izvestiya" on 24 March 2004 that after 2010 Russia will need to "import" at least 1 million people per year, and by 2015 Russia will exhaust the labor reserves of the CIS.

Social tension has risen apace with labor migration. Russian press reports, particularly at the yellow end of the journalistic spectrum, stress a tie between labor migration and crime. For example, "Komsomolskaya pravda" reported on 29 March that "65 percent of especially brutal rapes were committed by guest workers [in 2003]. The police are shocked -- how can they protect women without falling into Nazism?" (Many Russian sources use the slightly ironic German term "gastarbeiter" -- literally, "guest worker" in German -- to refer to migrant workers.) The article continued with horror stories of Russian women gang-raped by Tajiks and Uzbeks. After noting that "arrivals from the Caucasus are virtually never involved in arrests for this shameful criminal activity," the article concluded that "guest workers" from Tajikistan, Moldova, Ukraine, and the central part of Russia (the latter classified by Moscow perceptions as foreigners of a sort) tend to "attack in a group, rape [the woman] with particular brutality, and make little effort to hide after."

Other reports stress the cultural gulf that allegedly sets migrant workers from Central Asia apart from Russians. Bakhtiyar Alikulov, a 35-year-old migrant worker from Tajikistan, was brutally beaten in the course of a financial dispute with other migrant workers from Central Asia, "Moskovskii komsomolets" reported on 17 February. An article in "Podmoskove" on 25 February used the incident to draw rather far-reaching cultural conclusions: "It's not just the frosts that natives of the cotton republics of the former USSR no longer fear today. They earn Russian rubles, but, like many of our fellow countrymen, are not indifferent to the charms of the 'euro.' And they're already used to sorting things out with the help of American baseball bats. They prefer to mete out justice Eastern style, with cunning tortures and torments. They have already reconstructed in and around Moscow their medieval little world with its patriarchal customs...."

Migrant workers are also victims of violence. Two Uzbek migrant workers died in July when they burned to death in a barn near Moscow, "Moskovskii komsomolets" reported on 23 July. Local teenagers had asked them for 500 rubles. The Uzbeks refused. A few hours later, a crowd of seven men aged 16 to 22 gathered to drink beer. They soon remembered the 500 rubles and decided to torch the barn where the Uzbeks were sleeping. Other attacks betray a clear racial motive, with skinheads targeting dark-skinned victims for brutal, sometimes fatal, beatings. While there is more hostility in Russian society toward Chechens and other Caucasian ethnicities than toward Central Asians, a 24 March article in "Novye izvestiya" noted that extremists often single out those they perceive as weakest: "Skinheads attack Tajiks frequently, since they are supposed to 'the most beaten-down and harmless among the migrants.' Among the migrants, the Tajiks are on the lowest rung of the hierarchy. They do the hardest and lowest-paid work, which no one else will do. They silently endure the arbitrary injustice of employers and beatings from skinheads."

Although they generally make for grim reading, accounts of labor migration do not consist solely of arbitrarily unjust employers and brutal skinheads. One unusual story began in the Pamir Mountains. As Ivan Zasurskii, a Moscow journalist, recounts in an article on the music site, he hired a group of men from Tajikistan to fix his fences in 2003. After an impromptu concert at his house in 2004, Zasurskii helped Amonsho Timurov, Mirzo Sannoev, and Fazilatsho Kushbatov form the group Badakhshan, which quickly became something of a novelty on Moscow's alternative and ethnic music scene. Some of their songs can be found here: Zasurskii told "Novye izvestiya" on 23 July 2004, "We want the disparaging attitude toward guest workers in Moscow society to disappear."