Russia: Central Asian Labor Migrants Face Language Barrier
As if labor migrants in Russia didn’t already have enough trouble contending with xenophobia and violent harassment, a recent study shows that a significant number of guest workers from Central Asia can’t speak Russian. Citing research by the Center for Migration Studies, an official from the Federal Migration Service said that more than 20 percent of migrants from Central Asia do not speak Russian and 50 percent cannot independently fill out a simple form in the language, the state-run Rossiiskaya Gazeta reported last month. The official said a lack of language skills leaves the migrants vulnerable to exploitation. Underscoring Russia’s dependence on foreign laborers, regional governments across the country have sponsored programs aimed at teaching the migrants Russian. But “the guests are in no hurry to take advantage of the opportunity,” Rossiiskaya Gazeta laments, noting only about 5,000 have enrolled this year. (Over 6.7 million foreigners registered with the migration services between January and August, of whom more than 80 percent are from the former Soviet Union.) Migrants are overworked and their employers lack interest in seeing them learn Russian, the migration official said, adding that many gastarbeiters are exploited by members of their own diaspora communities. After independence, most states in Central Asia and the Caucasus sought to replace colonial Russian influence by emphasizing national languages and culture. As a result, knowledge of the lingua franca has diminished, especially among those born since 1991. But disintegrating education systems in these countries are as much to blame for falling language skills. In places like Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, while knowledge of Russian fades, illiteracy in titular languages is on the rise.
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