Tajik Government Tackles Labor Migration Issue
The scene these days at Dushanbe's main railway station is frenzied. On a typical morning, about 4,000 men and women converge on the ticket office, hoping to obtain a seat on the twice-weekly Dushanbe-Astrakhan train. Only 700 tickets are made available for each train a major conduit for Tajik migrant workers hoping to find opportunity abroad.
Up to 500,000 Tajiks leave the country each year in search of seasonal work, according to an estimate prepared under the auspices of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) office in Dushanbe. Many migrant workers say the lack of economic opportunity in Tajikistan leaves them no choice but to search for work in other CIS countries mainly Russia, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. However, Tajik experts say the largely unregulated outflow of workers has a debilitating effect on the country's economy.
The annual migration wave has also been a source of political friction among Tajikistan and its neighbors. In late September last year, for instance, Kazakhstan forced the suspension of Dushanbe-Astrakhan service, by refusing to permit the train to cross its territory. [For background see the EurasiaNet Business and Economics archive]. Kazakhstani officials attributed the move to concern over the unregulated movements of Tajik migrant laborers.
Managing labor migration has emerged as one of the most important issues confronting Tajik President Imomali Rahmonov's administration. The income generated by migrant workers is critical to the economic survival of many Tajik families. According to some estimates, the earnings of migrant workers are double the annual state budget of Tajikistan. "Labor migration for Tajikistan is of no less importance than production of cotton, aluminum and other resources," says Igor Bosc, head of the IOM office in Dushanbe.
Tajik authorities in recent months have implemented a variety of measures to regulate labor migration. The measures stand not only to benefit Tajikistan's economic development and regional relations, but may also serve to help protect legal migrant workers from abuse by employers in other countries by reducing exposure to extortion and deceptive practices.
At present, according to Bosc, about 90 percent of Tajik migrant workers are undocumented. The lack of legal status leaves many Tajiks vulnerable to abuse. For example, Azzam Shermatova, a Tajik woman who found work in the Orenburg Region of Russia, told the Varorud news agency that on her return journey she was subjected repeatedly to shakedowns by Uzbek police.
"Everything was good until we reached the Uzbek border