Friday, January 9, 2015

Gastarbeiter Exodus Said a Threat to Both Russia and Central Asia

Paul Goble


            Staunton, January 9 – The mass departure from Russian cities of migrant workers from Central Asia, an exodus occasioned both by the economic crisis and by Moscow’s tightening of restrictions on them and welcomed by many Russians, threatens Russia’s economy and increases the likelihood of terrorist attacks in Central Asia.


            Writing in “Moskovsky komsomolets,” Russian journalist Irina Bobrova puts it bluntly: “Russia will be threatened with collapse without gastarbeiters” because “the flight of migrants has paralyzed Russian construction projects and enterprises” (


            The exact size of the exodus and how long it will last are matters of dispute because statistics in this area are notoriously inaccurate. Some say that as many as 70 percent of the Central Asians are going home, but it is difficult to say how many are doing so permanently and how many may be back after winter vacations.


            Obviously some of the Central Asian gastarbeiters aren’t going anywhere: as bad as things are in Russia, they may be worse in their own countries.  One Kyrgyz worker told the journalist that he was “afraid to return to Kyrgyzstan” because there were few jobs there and none of them paid well.


            But their absence has already had an impact, Bobrova says, forcing firms to try to replace them with Russians, something that has required that they offer higher pay. That in turn will add to inflationary pressures in the Russian economy in the short term and raises questions about whether Russia can find an inexpensive labor force in the future.


            However, it is not just a question of people at the bottom of the income period, she continues. Russia has benefited from the decision of Central Asian doctors and other professionals to come to Russia. But they are leaving now, not returning home but rather seeking work in Turkey, Europe or the Middle East.


            Bobrova concludes her article with the observation that “Russian annually takes in more than ten million migrants. Countries like Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine, Tajikistan, Moldova, Armenia and Uzbekistan are hardly ready to take back a 100,000-strong army of labor migrants.” Their economies are just not that large.
              All these countries stand to lose the transfer payments such migrants had been sending home, an income stream they will find it difficult if not impossible to live without. Moreover, they will have to assume the social welfare burdens for a large number of people whom they carry on the books as citizens but have not had to pay much to support in recent years.
             But there may be an even more immediate danger from the gastarbeiters returning from Russia.  Yesterday, the Tajikistan government reported that it had arrested ten of the returnees on suspicion of participating in a plot to seize weapons and stage a rising against Dushanbe (
               The Tajik authorities said that the men had been recruited for this task by another Tajik citizen who is a member of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan while all of them were in Russia. The ringleader has confessed and said he was responsible for finding fighters for military actions in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.


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