Innovationen und Reproduktionen in Kulturen und Gesellschaften (IRICS) Wien, 9. bis 11. Dezember 2005

<< Issues of external and internal labor migration in post-Soviet Central Asia

Development Policies, Migration and Peace-building Central Asia

Ajay Patnaik (Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India)



Various types of migrations have taken place since the fall of the Soviet Union. In the late 1980s and early 1990s migration was characterized by the emigration of Slavs out of Central Asia and the influx of co-ethnics to titular republics in Central Asia. While millions of Slavs emigrated mainly because of the closing of industries and fear of ethno-religious revivalism, there were attempts to augment the demographic strength of the titular population by encouraging immigration of emigrants living in neighboring countries. Of late, however, one has witnessed a large number of the indigenous population migrating to Russia.

Hundreds of thousands of Tajiks, Kyrgyz and Uzbeks are leaving their republics to seek employment in Russia. These migrant workers toil for a pittance on Russian farms and are not covered by social security. The influx of such large numbers has had its impact on the inter-ethnic situation in Russia. The rise of violent racist movements in Russia has been supported by many locals, who blame their poverty and unemployment on the immigrants. Racist attacks have taken place, leading to casualties among the emigrant workers.

It is suggested by some that Russia has used the issue of the illegal migration of labor to extract military and security related concessions from the Central Asian states, like bases and monitoring facilities in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. However, these security facilities do not just help Russia, but they also protect the entire Central Asian region from external threats, including those from international terrorism. Russia has also helped in boosting the sense of economic security of the Central Asian countries by greater economic involvement. Economic growth would have an impact on both the Russian and the local population. The emigration of skilled Russians from Central Asia along with the large-scale illegal migration of indigenous Central Asian workers suffering economic hardship and without social and labor rights in Russia is detrimental to good intra- and inter-state relations. It is argued in this paper that, while it presents possibilities for conflict, and while states have a tendency to use migration as a bargaining tool for demanding concessions from one another, this process of labor mobility can be harnessed to mutual development and Eurasian integration.

Since the end of the Second World War, Russia has been a labor-deficient region, and Central Asia has been a labor-surplus region. During the Soviet years, the mobility of the Central Asians from rural to urban and to regions outside their titular republic was a major problem. As a result, the rural areas had substantial underemployment and unemployment. It has been argued that with some economic and social security guaranteed by the Soviet system, the traditional rural population did not show much willingness to move out of the village. The post-Soviet economic hardship has changed the situation radically, and today hundreds of thousands of Central Asians are going to Russia in search of work. The labor migration to Russia and the remittances help the Central Asian states to mitigate their difficult socio-economic situation.

At the same time, migration from Central Asia could be looked at as beneficial for Russia, considering the demographic crisis that Russia is now faced with. Yet the illegal nature of much of this migration has its economic, social and human costs. The migrant labor depresses the local wages, giving rise to social discontent in Russia. At a time when Russia is economically better off compared to other CIS states, its citizens would not like to work for lower wages because of the availability of migrant workers. Racist tendencies and movements in Russia have resulted in attacks on and the killing of migrant workers. Illegal migrants also suffer from gross human rights violations. Yet, they bear with the situation, since the existence back home is even more unbearable.

Attacks by racists on the expanding immigrant community in Russia might arouse similar sentiments against Russians in Central Asia. This could create conflicts between ethnic groups and even between Russia and some of the states in the region. Thus, there is an urgent need to improve the socio-economic situation in Central Asia itself, in order to halt the unwieldy and non-transparent emigration of the population.

This paper seeks to argue that, given the demographic and economic situation in Russia and Central Asia, the participation of Russians as skilled workers in Central Asia's economic reconstruction and that of Central Asians in the Russian economy is desirable. The uncontrolled flow can be restricted by an economic upswing in Central Asia itself. The recent Russian initiative to revive the Soviet era industries through capital investment in Central Asia would significantly help the Central Asian labor market in retaining local labor resources. Simultaneously, all of the states involved have been working on creating rules and regulations for a form of legal and transparent migration that would provide rights to immigrants as well as alleviate Russia's worries regarding social tension due to illegal migration.

Since the Russians and Central Asians have shared common statehood for more than a century, the current flow of Central Asians to Russia can cement a relationship, even if they are now separate states. This has advantages for Russia, since the Central Asians have some knowledge of the Russian language and culture. The Russians in Central Asia in the process would be under less pressure from indigenous groups to emigrate. Russia would continue to have leverage in the region through the significant monetary benefits accruing to emigrants working in Russia. It is our argument that migration has been a factor in increasing the possibilities for integration between Russia and most Central Asian states. At the same time, the states need to do more to avoid uncontrolled emigration that could have negative consequences. This may be done by migration policies within and between states to legalize migration and thus prevent unwanted emigrants from entering the receiving country. In this way the states can regulate the flow of emigrants and distribute them according to the labor needs of the various areas and regions of the receiving country. Such an arrangement would help the labor needs of its economy without reducing the socio-economic level of the local population. Simultaneously, there is an urgent need to develop the socio-economic situation in Central Asia, particularly in those parts of Central Asia – the Ferghana Valley, for example - which have witnessed a large number of their citizens going abroad in search of work. The role of Russia and Russians living in Central Asia is vital to achieve this objective. Positive trends have been seen recently both on both the policy and economic fronts. This paper intends to study the significance of migration for the development of Central Asia. It is also argued that migration can be harnessed to serve the purpose of integration and peace-building in Eurasia.

Innovations and Reproductions in Cultures and Societies
(IRICS) Vienna, 9 - 11 december 2005

WEBDESIGN: Peter R. Horn 2005-09-05