Last week, the International Organisation for Migration’s (IOM) Regional Programme Manager for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, Mark Richmond, visited Turkmenistan to review the program activities of the IOM in Turkmenistan as IOM had taken part in the implementation of a Central Asia Regional Counter-Trafficking Project, which focused on prevention of trafficking in persons through informational campaigns as well as medical, psychosocial, and legal assistance. According to the June 2013 US State Department Trafficking in Person Report, Turkmenistan is a source country for men, women, and children, many of whom are “subjected to forced labor after migrating abroad in search of employment, including in textile sweatshops, construction sites, and domestic service.” The report places Turkmenistan on the Tier 2 Watch List which includes countries where governments do not fully comply with the minimum standards of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000, but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards. A delegation from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) held talks at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to discuss EBRD strategy for promoting market reforms in Turkmenistan and the opening of a permanent office of the EBRD in Turkmenistan. EBRD has long been concerned with Turkmenistan’s failure to make progress towards multi-party democracy, pluralism, and a market-based economy and has set up an economic reform plan that seeks to bolster the country’s private sector and financial sector, reduce the state’s intervention in the economy, and improve transparency in the government’s budgetary process. The Bank’s strategy, which combines economic as well as political reforms responds to the many critics of international financial institutions (IFIs), such as the US-based Crude Accountability, which in its December 2012 report, “The Great Enablers,” recommends IFIs, including the EBRD abstain “from state-controlled resource-related projects due to the governance issues involved.” The competition between Europe and Russia for accessing Turkmenistan’s energy resources prompted Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to say before an audience at Don State Technical University, “our European partners are imposing the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline on Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan, disregarding the fact that such issues should be resolved between the coastal nations rather than in Brussels." The Trans-Caspian project to import natural gas from Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan to Central Europe, circumventing both Russian and Iran, was proposed in 1996 by the United States and is strongly supported by the EU. Russian and Iranian opposition to the project, as well as the unresolved legal dispute over the Caspian Sea territorial boundaries relating to the gas discovery on Azerbaijan's Shah Deniz field, the pipeline that would connect ports of Turkmenbashi and Baku has not made any progress. Turkmenistan’s Central Bank, on November 4, introduced new limitations which prohibit private businesses from withdrawing more than USD 1000 per month from the country’s banks. It is the second time such a limitation has been imposed. On the last occasion, the maximum amount for withdrawal was set at USD 3000 per month; it was removed shortly after its introduction. Turkmenistan Human Rights Initiative reported that the country’s banks experience severe shortage of cash, demonstrating that the country’s wealth in natural resources is not trickling down to the population, and in this case, to small and medium size enterprises.
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