Such was the crowd of people in Tajikistan’s capital that turned up this week to apply for permission to move to Russia from the local representative office of the Russian Interior Ministry that police officers had to be summoned.
The scenes of chaos starkly underlined the pervasive sense of hopelessness in Tajikistan’s long-term economic prospects and how ever more people aspire to move abroad.
Eyewitnesses reported that around 2,500 people arrived on January 9 to submit documents on the first day of work this year at the offices of Russia’s National Program for Supporting Voluntary Migration of the Compatriots Residing Abroad. The program is open to people born in the Soviet Union and to ethnic Russians. Applicants with higher qualifications — doctors, engineers and other similarly qualified specialists — are typically given priority.
The scramble occurred on the first day of work at the Russian Interior Ministry branch after the New Year holidays and as the applications are processed on a first come, first served basis, aspirant Russian citizens are desperate to get their names as high up as possible on the waiting lists.
RFE/RL’s Tajik service, Radio Ozodi, cited a representative with the Russian Interior Ministry, Galina Aleksandrova, as saying that they were forced to call police when the situation got out of their control.
“Police dispersed the aggressively disposed crowd. We have no information about anybody being injured,” she said.
The Russian Embassy has said that as a result of the high demand to take part in the migration program, applications are now only being accepted by phone.
There were similar scenes last year, when around 800 people turned up for the first day of work at the Dushanbe branch office of the Russian Interior Ministry. Police were called in that time also, and officials at the offices said they had never seen such crowds before.
Tajikistan and Russia signed a dual citizenship agreement in 1997. This has enabled some people in Tajikistan to avoid the considerable complications endured by migrant laborers, who are required to go through much bureaucratic wrangling before they are able to work legally in Russia. The prospect of Russian pensions, which are much higher than anything provided in Tajikistan, are also a compelling incentive.
Record numbers of Tajiks have been gaining Russian citizenship in recent years. According to official figures, the number was around 23,000 in 2016. Another 73,000 were on the waiting lists to receive citizenship that year. In the first half of 2017 alone, around 13,000 Tajiks got Russian citizenship, indicating a clear increase in tempo.
Meanwhile, as Radio Ozodi has reported, schools in Tajikistan are running chronically short of math, science and English- and Russian-language teachers. The healthcare system is short around 3,000 qualified personnel, from rank-and-file medical workers up to specialist doctors.