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Kyrgyzstan Review, 10 years ago

[14.08.23] KYRGYZSTAN: Poverty Fuels Labor Migration in the South

"I was a real slave there [in Kazakhstan]," Kalil Matkerimov, a 32-year-old resident of the southern Nookat District, told IRIN, saying he had only escaped by chance after his employer, a local tobacco planter, had taken his passport and left a person behind to watch over him.
Trusting illegal recruiters in his home country, he along with 50 other young peasants from southern Kyrgyzstan had been taken to neighboring Kazakhstan where they worked from dawn to dusk for a promise of US $40 a month - a pledge rarely fulfilled.
Momunbek Nazarbekov, a 28-year-old builder, travelling to the Russian city of Samara with his team of bricklayers and construction workers each year, fared slightly better. "We are lucky and every worker earns some US $2,000 per season," he told IRIN in the western Kyrgyz city of Osh, noting, however, that they had to give some of the money to middlemen and police to avert harassment. "Most of our workers didn't even leave the fenced construction site in an effort to avoid trouble," he claimed.
Such testimonies are not unusual, but indicative of a problem that is endemic in the region. The southern regional office of the Kyrgyz foreign ministry's migration agency said that there were between 6,000 and 7,000 labor migrants from the Nookat district of Osh Province in Kazakhstan alone. Moreover, unconfirmed reports hint that the overall number of Kyrgyz migrants working in Kazakhstan might be upwards of 50,000, while the migration agency said only 1,700 of them had legal status as migrants.
According to the Russian interior ministry, of the 400,000 Kyrgyz working in Russia, only 80,000 are officially registered, while just 5,000 have bona fide work permits.
Zafar Khakimov, the director of the migration agency, told IRIN that the majority of job seekers came from the south, and that in an effort to gain a clearer picture of the situation, the agency's regional office had conducted a survey in the provinces of Osh, Jalal-Abad and Batken last year with the assistance of the International Organization for Migration (IOM). Of the 1,800 households surveyed, almost two-thirds of respondents said they used to travel outside the region in order to earn money.
Talaibek Kydyrov, the director of the Regional Center on Migration and Refugee Issues, a local NGO, said the root cause of such movement was economic. "There is high unemployment among the population, a surplus of workforce and therefore no jobs," he told IRIN from the capital, Bishkek.
Kydyrov explained that labor migration was mostly illegal without any social security, paving the way for potential abuse by employers. He noted that under new Russian legislation on migration it was necessary to obtain a special work permit, which involved some fees, submitting relevant documents and a certain period of time for evaluation. "It is causing problems, and therefore they [the parties] make deals illegally," he explained, noting that Russian employers were hiring the workers in that way so as to avoid taxes and bureaucratic hassles.
But according to activists from Golden Goal, a local NGO based in Osh, such labor migration was a normal phenomenon. "It is one of the factors of lowering social tension," Alisher Mamajanov, the head of Golden Goal, told IRIN, adding, however, that the process lacked proper regulation and control.
Experts emphasize the importance of raising awareness of people on migration issues and legislation of the destination countries. Kudrat Karimov, the IOM's project manager, said that the organization was implementing a series of activities, including a hotline on migration issues and dissemination of special literature to address the issue. An information and resource center had been opened in Osh recently under the regional department of migration agency within the IOM's project, aimed at supporting NGOs dealing with migration, he added.
Meanwhile, Bishkek has started taking measures on regulating labour relations with Kazakhstan and Russia, the main destinations for Kyrgyz migrants. Khakimov said the government had already signed an agreement with Astana on the social security of labor migrants working in agriculture in border regions. Moreover, it was expected that Kyrgyzstan and Russia would sign a protocol on amendments and additions to the existing agreement on migrants' social security in the forthcoming weeks, which was said would facilitate the lives of the Kyrgyz migrants there to some extent.
IRINnews, August 14, 2003

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