Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Today’s Migrant Workers in Russia Very Different from Their Pre-2014 Predecessors, Abashin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 20 – Now that the number of immigrants in Russia has returned to its pre-2014 level, Sergey Abashin, an ethnographer at St. Petersburg’s European University says, it is important to take note of how different today’s immigrant workers are than those who came to Russia earlier.

            Interviewed by Elena Rotkevich of Gorod-812 news agency, the scholar says that at the end of last year, there were 8.7 million foreigners in Russia from the CIS countries. They varymarkedly in many ways from one country to another and over time (gorod-812.ru/migrantyi-edut-v-rossiyu-ne-za-tem-za-chem-ehali-ranshe/).

            Most of those coming from Uzbekistan and Tajikistan are young men, Abashin says; women from those two countries form less than 20 percent of the total.  Those from Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine, have just the reverse gender pattern: The number of women is 50 percent to 100 percent larger than the number of men in each case.

            Kyrgyzstan is a special case among Central Asian countries: “Almost 40 percent of the migrants from there are women,” possibly a reflection of that nation’s nomadic past and certainly a product of the low social status of women without husbands in Kyrgyz society.  Many of them come to Russia to find husbands.

            The country supplying the largest number of immigrants to Russia is Ukraine – some 2.3 million at the end of last year – but “we know very little about them as there is a shortage of research on Ukrainian migration” because they blend in so completely with the surrounding Russian milieu.

            A major change from a decade ago, Abashin says, is that “not only poor people” are moving to Russia. “Many have money and even open their own businesses in Russia,” typically small ones but sometimes larger ones as well. Moreover, many now say that they didn’t so much come to work as to “look around.” 

            Today, the ethnographer says, they “work for a dream. In Central Asia, there are three main dreams: to build a house, to buy a car, and to host in a worthy fashion a major [family] celebration.” These dreams vary a little among the Central Asian countries. Uzbeks want a car, Tajiks a house, and “many Kyrgyz dream of staying in Russia forever.”

            In recent times, ever more immigrants have the dream of attending a Russian higher educational institution.  They see that as a way up the social latter, and they have been helped by the expansion in the number of government-financed places in universities and colleges in Russia.

            One continuity in immigrant behavior is a focus on their homelands and sending money home. “Annually, gastarbeiters send home from 12 to 19 billion dollars from Russia.” In 2017, Uzbekistan received the largest amount of these transfer payments.  Kyrgyz immigrants, Abashin says, are more inclined than others to want to remain in Russia.

            Indeed, for gastarbeiters as a whole, Abashin says, only 2 to 3 percent are inclined to see themselves remaining in Russia for the rest of their lives. 

            The scholar says that ethnic enclaves are not a major problem because the immigrants settle in apartments on the basis of price rather than choosing their neighbors.  They are far less inclined to commit crimes than are native Russians, and the number of crimes they do commit has been falling.

            Xenophobia is not a big problem, Abashin argues. It is the subject of political talk but not among ordinary migrants or Russians. Immigrants do fear skinhead groups “but they fear the police more, although any policeman as the migrants themselves say is always ready to take 500 or 1,000 rubles [as a bribe] and go away.”

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