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Central Asia Students Seek Migrant Work To Pay University Costs

Tajik migrant workers in Russia's Volgograd region
Tajik migrant workers in Russia's Volgograd region
Sohibyor has just finished his exams at Dushanbe National University, but he has no plans for summer holidays. Instead, he's set to join his brothers doing construction work in Russia.

Sohibyor says he doesn’t mind working during his summer holidays, even doing hard physical labor, but would prefer to do it at home in Tajikistan. But like many other students, he's found that jobs are scarce, and wages are too low to meet his needs.

“As soon as the exams are finished, I'll go Russia to find a job, because I have to earn money to pay my tuition fee and my own living costs during the next year," Sohibyor said. "Also, I need to give some money to my parents. I have virtually no time to get a rest or review my lessons. I’ve got to look for a job in Russia, because it is impossible in Tajikistan to find a job to earn the amount of money I need.”

It is quite common for university students in Tajikistan and neighboring Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan to join migrant laborers in Russia and Kazakhstan during their summer holidays. Sometimes, they cannot immediately get a seasonal job and stay on in Russian through September and October, missing the first months of their studies.

Those who don’t want to go far help local farmers or push carts in vegetable markets. But even these poorly paid jobs are hard to find because, as Sohibyor says, “the job market in the region is very, very limited and you face tough competition even if you want to push a cart.”

In Uzbekistan, authorities have established a so-called youth social movement, called Kamolot, to “support young people socially and financially.” Kamolot has set up a special student work force to help students find seasonal jobs during their vacations.

Bekzod Mamadqulov, who is in charge of the summer program, told RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service that some 5,000 people signed up for the program when it began last year. This year, he says the program has expanded to include over 20,000 students.

“Members of the student work force get jobs in construction projects -- for instance, they build highways and railways, they build colleges, high schools, and schools. They can also get jobs in healthcare. Some also work as hairdressers or shoemakers. We try to find jobs depending on [students’] desires and abilities.”

Mamadqulov says members of the workforce earn up to $250 a month “on top of getting a free meal three times a day.” The offer compares favorably with the national minimum wage in Uzbekistan of about $13 a month.

Karim, a university student from Tashkent, told RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service that he joined the youth work force last year and “was deeply disappointed, because the money was much less than had been promised, while the work was much more difficult than what was advertised by the Kamolot movement.” He also complained that the housing provided did not meet even basic sanitary standards and that the food provided was well below the quality that had been promised.

But despite his complaints and disappointment, Karim is joining the student work force again this year, as are thousands of others who have to earn money to support themselves during the academic year. The working conditions may be difficult, but for the students, as for many other Central Asians, there are few other opportunities to be had.

RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service correspondent Mehribon Bekieva contributed to this report
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    Farangis Najibullah

    Farangis Najibullah is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL who has reported on a wide range of topics from Central Asia, including the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on the region. She has extensively covered efforts by Central Asian states to repatriate and reintegrate their citizens who joined Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

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