Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Migrants Back from Russia Undermine Stability in Central Asia, Caucasus

Paul Goble

Vienna, April 14 – Many migrant workers who recently lost their jobs in Russia are going back to their Central Asian and Caucasian homelands, but instead of returning to their native villages, they are moving into cities and especially the capitals of their countries where, because of high unemployment in many, they becoming an additional source of instability.
Compounding the problems created by their number is the experiences many of these returnees had in Russia. Because they worked illegally there, at least some are now prepared to operate outside the legal sphere and thus become both subject to and influenced by black market firms and radical political movements.
As a result, while the departure of some Gastarbeiters from Russia may have lowered tensions in cities there, the return of such people is leading to leading in some places to “social collapse,” according to a Deutsche Welle report, even though most governments in this region are denying the problem exists (www.centrasia.ru/news.php?st=1239680820).
There are few reliable statistics on these flows, particularly because the governments involved do not carefully distinguish between internal migration in which people are streaming in from villages to the cities from external migration in which individuals are either coming in from abroad or returning.
But numerous reports by residents of Central Asia suggest that the problem is not only large but growing. While government-controlled media in that region either downplay the trend or do not report it at all, local people say that the return of Gastarbeiters from Russia is leading to “a growth in crime,” the German station reports.
At the same time, however, a Tashkent journalist, said that the media there “more or less regularly feature stories saying that our citizens are falling into slavery in CIS countries and how it is necessary to avoid that,” something intended as a warning against leaving but also an indication of an unstated concern by the authorities about returnees.
In neighboring Kyrgyzstan, the German broadcaster says, many residents in Osh and other cities are taking the return of Gastarbeiters “more seriously.” “With each day,” a local rights activist told the German station, the number Kyrgyz returning from Russia either because they have no work or are being deported as illegals, “continues to grow.”
Their return is not yet obvious to someone walking through the center of the city, the activist said, but anyone who visits the city market will see the returnees, mostly middle aged men who say they are waiting to return to Russia when the economy there improves, yet another reason why many do not easily integrate into the existing situation in their homelands.
The path of many of the returnees varies. Some return to their villages only to move on to the cities and especially the capitals when they cannot find work. Others go directly to the cities because they know there are no jobs for them in their home villages. And still a third group goes to the capital cities first of all.
One indication of the level of official concern, the activist said, was the decision of the authorities in Bishkek to take down a report on the website of the migration service saying that the government expected some 45,000 returnees in the southern part of the country alone. More senior officials ordered that report removed lest it “frighten” people.
And the reason locals are nervous, Deutsche Welle concludes, is not only that the returnees will drive up the already high rate of unemployment but also exacerbate social tensions to the point that the authorities may not be able to cope, a danger that exists in the countries of the southern Caucasus as well (news-ru.trend.az/politics/foreign/1455441.html).

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