Staunton, May 10 – Many immigrants who have been working in Russia have already returned home because of the pandemic, but now the Russian government plans beginning on June 15 to begin deporting illegal immigrants, a program it had suspended over the last year. The numbers of people involved are massive, and the problems their return will cause enormous.
The Russian interior ministry says there are currently 332,000 illegals from Uzbekistan, 247,000 from Tajikistan, 152,000 from Ukraine, 120,000 from Azerbaijan, 115,000 from Kyrgyzstan, 61,000 from Armenia, 56,000 from Moldova and 49,000 from Kazakhstan (ritmeurasia.org/news--2021-04-24--ubeditelnaja-prosba-mvd-rf-k-migrantam.-ne-beda-esli-vosprimut-kak-ultimatum-54355).
Their return will push up unemployment in those countries, increase poverty because of the end of transfer payments, and spark conflicts between these countries and their neighbors because those who can’t find work in their own country will seek it elsewhere. These problems are likely to hit Central Asia hardest because that is where the largest numbers are involved.
Irina Bolbot of the Rhythm of Eurasia portal surveys what the situation now is in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan because of returning migrant workers and discusses how the situation is likely to deteriorate after Moscow sends still more home (ritmeurasia.org/news--2021-05-11--trudovaja-migracija-vnutri-srednej-azii-utopija-ili-shans-na-vyzhivanie-54567).
Tashkent, she reports, says 500,000 Uzbeks have already returned home since the pandemic began, pushing up unemployment, increasing poverty because there are no more transfer payments, and leading returnees who can’t find work to seek it in neighboring countries, especially Kyrgyzstan, sparking tensions in border regions there.
The situation with regard to returning migrant workers is equally or even more dire, and the arrival of Uzbeks who had been working in Russia has made the situation even worse, especially since a large but unknown share of them are working in the shadow economy, taking jobs from Kyrgyz, and not paying taxes.
Bolbot says that the problems are concentrated in the already tense border regions. Uzbeks living near the border are more likely to cross into Kyrgyzstan, and Kyrgyz employers in border regions are more likely to offer them jobs. Only a relative few come from or move deeper into the interior of these countries.
But these problems aren’t limited to Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. Ildar Korabayev, a Bishkek sociologist, says that “the mass expulsion of illegal migrants has essentially hit the economic situation not only in individual countries of the region but also the situation in Central Asia as a whole.”
And he and other experts warn that all of these problems are going to get worse after June 15, increasing tensions among the countries of the region and making the resolution of many disputes, including those involving borders, even more difficult.