Sunday, April 7, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Central Asians Working in Russia Hurt Their Own Countries, Experts Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 7 – Russians often complain that migrant workers from Central Asia and the Caucasus are harming the Russian Federation, but a new study by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) that the massive flow of workers from those two regions is harming in the first instance their native countries.

            In a discussion of this report on Russia’s “Svobodnaya pressa” portal, Vitaly Slovetsky says that the absence for prolonged periods of young men from their homelands, in this specific case, Kyrgystan and Tajikistan, represents “a most serious threat to the demographic situation” of the countries from which they have left (

            Migrants from these countries to Russia “do not link their future” to their motherlands. Marriages dissolve, early marriages become more common, and polygamy appears with migrants often having one wife at home and another in Russia, according to the IOM.  All this has a negative impact on these countries.

            Moreover, the experience of migration changes the men involved. It breaks their ties with their traditional cultures.  And it is also affecting their wives, many of whom follow their husbands to Russia in the hopes of saving their marriages but at the cost of leaving their children in the care of grandparents or others.

            That pattern too, the IOM study concludes, “also has “catastrophic consequences,” with ever more people from these countries fleeing or ready to flee their native places, leaving rural villages vacant and even reducing the population of smaller cities.

            Karomat Sharipov, the president of the All-Russian Tajikistan Labor Migrants Movement, says that “the overwhelming part of young Tajiks aged 17 to 27” are coming to Russia.  Indeed, “more than one generation” has done so, and if there are a few more, Tajikistan “will die.”

            In Kyrgyzstan, the situation is similar, with an increasingly aging rural population and a deterioration of the nation’s “gene fund,” which will reduce still further the human resources of the population. Some 300,000 Kyrgyz residents have taken Russian citizenship over the last few years and won’t be back. And along the border, whole regions are now vacant because of the departures, and this creates a serious security problem for that Central Asian republic.

            The impact of migration on Central Asia and the Caucasus seldom gets much attention from Russians who are upset by the growth of migrant populations in their country.  But there is a growing appreciation of the extent to which these problems are inter-related and must be addressed at one and the same time.

            Igor Romanov, a sociologist who works at the Russian Institute of Strategic Research, says that massive migration flows harm “both the countries of exit and those of arrival.”  Because migrants only come to make money,” he notes, they do not increase their education and qualifications” and thus do not become motors for progress either in Russia or at home.

            Worse, Romanov says, they are “marginalized” and “lose their traditions” because they are interested only in finding work. As a result, they are open to the work of “various destructive organizations, in particular, Islamist.”  That is a real threat for Russia, but it is also a threat for their homelands if and when those who have been radicalized return.

             The impact of the experience of migration may be even more destructive for women than for men, he continues. Central Asian and Caucasian women, finding themselves in Russia without the cultural constraints they were subject to at home, often begin to smoke and curse and do not care for their children, even if the latter are with them.

            Moscow should work to protect the Russian nation by severely limiting immigration, Romanov says, but to be effective in that regard, it must be concerned not only about the impact of migrants on Russian life but also on the negative consequences of migration for neighboring countries, however large the transfer payments of the migrants to these countries may be.

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