By Oleg Salimov (08/07/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst)
Tajik labor migrants are again at the center of political games between Russia and Tajikistan. At the end of June, Tajikistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs delivered a note of protest to Russia’s Ambassador in Tajikistan, objecting to an article in the Russian newspaper AiF, which describes Tajikistan as a country of labor migrants. Soon thereafter, the Russian government allowed the reentry to over 1,000 Tajik migrants earlier deported from Russia for violating immigration laws. This step, as well as the removal of the article from its original source, tempered the Tajik government’s reaction. However, the problem of Tajik labor migrants is far from resolved.
The original article published in the popular Russian newspaper was titled “The country of guest workers. AiF’s special report from Tajikistan.” The article’s central theme was the urgent need for a visa regime between Russia and Tajikistan. Tajikistan’s government as well as the Russia-based social movement Tajik Labor Migrants found the article highly derogatory and offensive. The official statement of Tajikistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs pointed to the destructive consequences of such publications on the Tajikistan-Russia relationship. The ministry appealed to the Russian government to prevent publications that distort the truth and contribute to a negative image of Tajikistan.
At the same time, Karomat Sharipov, the chairman Tajik Labor Migrants, published the group’s response to the article on its website. Sharipov asserted that the article was part of a dirty political campaign by Russian pseudo-patriots, aiming to discredit Tajikistan and denigrating the Tajik people. Sharipov agreed that the visa regime for labor migrants is needed, but mainly in order to protect Tajiks arriving in Russia as opposed to protecting Russia from Tajiks as argued in the article. He also noted that such publications are unacceptable for countries seeking to build a strategic partnership.
Following the public outrage in Tajikistan, the Russian government on July 2 pardoned over 1,000 Tajiks, who had previously been deported from Russia for violating the rules of their legal stay. According to Abdullo Kodiri, the press-secretary of Tajik Migration Services, the agreement was reached after negotiations between the two countries’ migratory services. Russia hosts close to a million Tajik migrants as of June 2015, according to Russian Federal Migratory Services. The number is about 200,000 lower than in December 2014.
The amount of money transferred from Russia to Tajikistan by labor migrants in the first quarter of 2015 is also down by 42.4 percent compared to the first quarter of the last year, according to Tajikistan’s National Bank (TNB). TNB reported a total of US$ 289 million transferred to Tajikistan from Russia in the first quarter of 2015. Russia’s Central Bank instead reported transfers of US$ 364 million from Russia to Tajikistan and a drop of 87 percent in the first quarter of 2015, as compared to the same period in 2014. The coefficient of money transfers from Russia to Tajikistan’s GDP is down from 30.8 percent in the first quarter of 2014 to 19 percent in the first quarter of 2015, according to TNB.
The lower number of Tajik labor migrants and the significant drop in money transfers to Tajikistan can be explained by the slowing Russian economy as a result of falling oil prices and economic sanctions implemented by the U.S., EU, and some other countries. While Tajikistan is not part of West-Russia confrontation, the country feels the effect of these sanctions firsthand. Tajikistan could have avoided this situation if the Tajik government would have been genuinely concerned about the problem of outmigration from Tajikistan, unemployment, and the dependency of its economy on money transfers from labor migrants.
While provocative, the AiF article describes a problem that the Tajik government continues to neglect. While expressing its outrage over the article, the Tajik government has failed to outline any actions to address the problem of labor migrants, whose input into Tajikistan’s economy reached 42 percent of the country’s GDP at its peak in 2013. Instead of negotiating with Russia on pardoning labor migrants, Tajikistan’s government should focus on fighting unemployment at home and building a self-sustaining economy. This will create a far more positive image of Tajikistan, which was the primary concern of the government’s protest.
Tajik Labor Migrants warns about the growing number of Tajik migrants disillusioned with their own government and the prospects of employment back home, which become radicalized and join extremist groups like ISIS. In the beginning of July 2015, Radio Ozodi/Freedom reported that Tajikistan’s embassy in Moscow had received a letter from Russian ultranationalists requesting the immediate return of all Tajik migrants to Tajikistan to avoid “dire consequences.” Tajik labor migrants are frequently treated as a point of leverage in political negotiations between Russia and Tajikistan, but are simultaneously a highly vulnerable group whose real needs are rarely recognized.
RUSSIA'S REGULATION OF LABOR MIGRATION SET TO HURT CENTRAL ASIAN ECONOMIES, by Nurzhan Zhambekov
MOSCOW CFE KILL THREATEN CAUCASUS STABILITY, by Richard Weitz
CAUCASUS EMIRATE FACES FURTHER DECLINE AFTER THE DEATH OF ITS LEADER, by Emil Aslan Souleimanov
KAZAKHSTAN AND NEIGHBORS SEEK STRATEGIES TO COUNTER EMERGING THREATS, by Jacob Zenn
KYRGYZSTAN'S PRIME MINISTER RESIGNS, by Arslan Sabyrbekov
ISLAMIC STATE REACHES OUT TO GEORGIA, by Eka Janashia
ARMENIA'S PRESIDENT VISITS THE VATICAN, by Erik Davtyan
AZERBAIJAN DEMOTED TO EITI CANDIDATE, by Mina Muradova
By Nurzhan Zhambekov (04/29/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst)
The slowing Russian economy suffered a triple shock in the form of Western economic sanctions, falling oil prices, and the plummeting Russian ruble in 2014, resulting in a negative impact on Central Asian states. In addition, tighter migration regulations in Russia, in force since early 2015, are having an effect on the flow of migration from Central Asia, particularly from Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. These three countries rely heavily on remittances from their migrant workers in Russia. The drop in remittances could increase socioeconomic disaffection in parts of Central Asia that are dependent on labor migrants’ earnings.
By Yelena Sadovskaya (01/07/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst)
Despite a short history of current migration from the PRC to Kazakhstan – 25 years only – it is accompanied by growing tension in the receiving society. Deeply ingrained phobias and prejudices in relation to Chinese migrants, as well as “mythologization” of Chinese migration are specific phenomena rooted in the dramatic history of Kazakh tribes’ struggle against Dzungarian tribes and the Qing government. One can trace the phobias regarding Chinese migration to history (collective memory of the Kazakh people) and contemporary issues such as lack of knowledge.
Political scientists in Kazakhstan have conducted studies of myths about China and the Chinese presence in Kazakhstan. A typology of myths and phobias was offered by Konstantin Syroezhkin and includes a threat of “Chinese expansion” and control over Kazakhstan’s mineral resources; a threat of economic dominance and of Kazakhstan turning into a raw-materials supplier for China; a fear of Kazakhstan being divided and its parts annexed by China; migration of the Han Chinese to Xinjiang and further west, settling in Kazakhstan and occupying agricultural lands; and a threat of environmental disaster due to irrigation activities on the Chinese part of the Irtysh river. Each of these myths has been reproduced for years in mass media, internet and virtual commentaries.
A lack of knowledge about China was identified as one of the causes for fear in representative monitoring sociological studies conducted under the author’s supervision in 2007 and 2012, covering the urban population. The respondents demonstrated weak knowledge of Chinese culture (literature, art, traditions), as well as insufficient knowledge of its current affairs. Though the knowledge of China’s current economic, social, and political life increased from 39 percent to 49 percent between 2007 and 2012, their familiarity with Chinese culture and history remained at the same low level: 9 percent in 2012 and 10.2 percent in 2007.
It is then no wonder that this vacuum is being filled with subjective images, not based on fact and often brought in from outside. Of particular concern are the lack of reliable information and difficult access to migration statistics on China and analytical data on its economic presence in Kazakhstan, as well as the social practice of Chinese migrants’ “parallel existence” in receiving communities accompanied by an absence of communication with local people.
The fears regarding “Chinese expansion” are not new: in the 1990s, arguments against the migration of workers from China were based on concerns that it would contribute to Chinese colonization of Kazakhstan and the formation of “Chinatowns.” According to the 2007 sociological survey, 24 percent of the respondents believed that Chinese migration would negatively impact Kazakhstan’s labor market because it would raise competition. In 2012, this share increased to 31 percent.
It is in fact a myth because the number of Chinese workers amounts to a tenth, or even a hundredth of a percent of the workforce throughout the country. It does not have any serious impact on the labor market either by sectors or by regions. Moreover, Chinese workers are employed only in a few limited sectors of the labor market, or recruited to joint Chinese-Kazakhstani projects.
According to the 2012 survey, 11 percent of the respondents believed that Chinese migrants arrived to obtain Kazakhstani citizenship and 11 percent that they intended to marry Kazakh women. Contrary to popular fears, Chinese migrants do not naturalize in Kazakhstan en masse – only 80 Han Chinese have obtained Kazakh citizenship and 393 have stayed on as permanent residents in Kazakhstan in the period between 1995 and 2014, according to the Kazakh Ministry of Interior Affairs, data as of November 5, 2014.
Indeed, citizenship and permanent residence immigration to Kazakhstan is represented mostly by ethnic Kazakhs repatriates. The majority of Han Chinese arrive for temporary work or trade and do not stay for permanent residence. Kazakhstan in fact is not the most attractive country for Chinese citizens, the majority of whom prefer to move to the economically better developed eastern regions of China, South-East Asia or developed Western countries.
The 2012 survey revealed a “crystallization” of attitudes towards Chinese migrants among Kazakhstan’s urban population: “positive” and “very positive” attitudes to Chinese migrants decreased to 23 percent (from 26 percent in 2007) while the share of “negative” and “very negative” attitudes increased to 33 percent (from 18 percent in 2007). As a result, the share of those indifferent to Chinese migrants decreased by 11 percent and amounted to 44 percent in 2012. These findings can be further tested against a few hypotheses about the socio-psychological and socio-cultural processes: is it that prejudices towards the Chinese grow, or that national stereotypes become stronger?
It is also valid to question to what extent there is an increase of “xenophobia” towards migrants from China and other non-CIS countries. This has been confirmed by the results of other social surveys, such as by the Kazakhstani institute for socio-economic information and prognosis in 2010: Kazakhstani people are more tolerant to labor migrants from Russia and Central Asia than to those from China or Turkey, though migrant-phobia is present there too. Specifically, 62.9 percent of respondents have a positive or neutral attitude toward Russian migrants, out of which 27.5 percent is positive; only 19.8 percent have a negative attitude. Toward migrants from Central Asia the corresponding figures are 52.4 percent, 15.4 percent, and 31.9 percent, respectively. Toward migrants from China and other foreign countries 41.6 percent are positive or neutral, of which 15 percent are positive, and 40 percent are negative, representing the highest level of negative attitudes of all groups.
Kazakhstan has already witnessed local conflicts between locals and Chinese workers. This calls for further in-depth and applied studies to better understand what causes this low tolerance towards Chinese migrants and the widespread phobias and myths. This and other proactive measures is an important step to prevent ethnic and social tensions and migration-related conflicts, both at local and national levels.
The Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst is a biweekly publication of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program, a Joint Transatlantic Research and Policy Center affiliated with the American Foreign Policy Council, Washington DC., and the Institute for Security and Development Policy, Stockholm. For 15 years, the Analyst has brought cutting edge analysis of the region geared toward a practitioner audience.