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Tajik Migrants Face the Future with Fear

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, Russia has banned the entry of foreign citizens until May 1. The party impacted by this decisions are thousands of migrants from Central Asian countries, who lost their jobs at the beginning of the season. 

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Migrants from Tajikistan look to the future with fear. Photo: ozodi. org
Migrants from Tajikistan look to the future with fear. Photo: ozodi. org

Labour migration is especially important for Tajikistan. Last year, according to the data by the Central Bank of the Russian Federation, Tajik migrants sent 2.7 billion US dollars to their country, which constitutes about 33% of the gross domestic product (GDP) of Tajikistan.

Those migrants already in Russia have also found themselves in a difficult position. Sobir Samadov, a Tajik citizen, has been working in a Moscow restaurant for the past ten years.

At the end of February, he returned to Moscow to obtain permit for residency and a patent for work. But he did not work even for a week, before the restaurant was closed.

Now Sobir, like thousands of other migrants, does not know what destiny awaits him. He cannot pay rent. The restaurant director said that he would pay half the salary for the month, but made it clear not to expect large payments.

More and more migrants lose their jobs due to tightening the quarantine conditions in Russian cities. At the same time they cannot return to their homeland, as Russia closed its borders and limited the movement of all modes of transport. Since March 20, Tajikistan also closed land and air routes, further aggravating the situation.

Therefore, many experts consider this process the most painful shock in recent years for both migrants and their home countries.

Parviz Mullojanov, a Tajik expert considers that in the current situation labor migrants have turned out to be the most vulnerable segment of the modern Russian society.

Парвиз Муллоджанов. Фото: CABAR.asia
Parviz Mullojanov. Photo: CABAR.asia

According to him, this threat is not only connected with the possibility of infection with the virus.

“As a result of the pandemic large Russian cities are quarantined. Ultimately, everything is going towards tightening the regime of social isolation. This leads to reduction of the activities, specifically in those sectors of the economy, where labour migrants are employed – namely, trade, services and construction, as well as transport. Therefore, majority of the migrants are forced to take vacation or a made redundant”, says Mullojanov. He emphasized that during crisis migrants are the first victims.

“Especially, these are illegal immigrants or those who are work on a patent. Employers make them redundant first”, said Mullojanov.

According to him, many migrants in Moscow are already forced to live on their savings. Mullojanov assumes that the future of Tajik labour migrants in Russia depends on the duration of the quarantine. 

“If quarantine in Russian cities is prolonged, then the local authorities will have to urgently solve the problem of migrants. Otherwise, they should in an organize manner send them home or facilitate the conditions for registration and employment in new conditions. In a crisis, labour migrants would not receive much consideration – all illegal immigrants and unemployed will be deported first”, believes the expert.

Over the past decade, labour migrants from Tajikistan have transferred over 20 billion US dollars to their country. The data for the first quarter of the current year are still unknown, but it is clear that in the current situation the amount of remittances will be significantly reduced.

Masud Sobirov, an economist and the senior fellow at the Tajik Academy of Sciences, says that the remittances are one of the main sources of Tajikistan’s budget and their contribution should be considered when drafting the law on the budget. 

According to Sobirov, the volume of the construction industry decreased by about 20 percent, while the income of public catering enterprises fell by 50 percent.

“Obviously, in such situation migrants cannot send money home, and will spend their savings on themselves in the hope for better times. If the crisis continues, they will not only not be able to send money, they will even lose their legal status. The validity period for the documents required for work will end and the migrants will not have money for their renewal”, said Sobirov.

 Taking into consideration the current situation, Tajik Embassy in Moscow asked the Russian authorities to provide concessions for migrants.

According to Imomuddin Sattorov, the ambassador of Tajikistan to Russia, the embassy plans to appeal to Russian authorities with a request to provide migrants with “holidays” to pay taxes and extend patents.

In turn, Russian authorities made it easier for migrants to stay and work. The Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs allowed migrants to renew their patents at police stations without crossing the border.

However, according to forecasts, the spread of the virus in Russia is only beginning and the likelihood of maintaining the quarantine regime in dozens of large cities of the country is very high. In this case, the vast majority of jobs for migrants will be closed for at least three months.

Abdumannon Sheraliev, an analyst on migration issues, predicts that remittances from Russia to the Central Asian countries, including Tajikistan, can be reduced by half or even more.

Sheraliev brought attention to the statements of Mishustin, the Prime Minister of Russian Federation about the undesirability of redundancies during the pandemic. According to Mishustin, the enterprises where staff redundancies will take place will be checked by the labor inspectorate, the Federal Tax Service and the prosecutor’s office.

“The Russian government decided to control the dismissal of workers. Obviously, after such warnings, not a single employer will leave the migrant and dismiss a Russian citizen”, said Sheraliev.

He noted that “thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of entrepreneurs” who own restaurants, cafes and small shops, selling cakes, dumplings and shawarma, are at risk of bankruptcy.

“Even without considering the spread of coronavirus in Russia, the fact that the exchange rate of Russian ruble over the past two months has fallen by almost 20 percent and the income of the population have decreased by the same amount, it can be expected that migrants income and remittances will decrease by 25-30 percent, – says Sheraliev. If the case of Italy and Iran will repeat in Russia then money transfers from Russia to Tajikistan in the next four to five months may be by 60-70 percent lower than last year.”

Sobir Samadov, a Tajik migrant working in a Moscow restaurant, said the director had paid the rent of the apartment and offered him to work depending on quarantine conditions. Now Sobir and other employees take orders from clients and delivery food to their homes by car.

“In any case I was not going to return home empty-handed. I do not have any job and income there”, says Sobir Samadov.

He is worried about the faith of the thousands of migrants from Central Asian countries who currently live in Russian cities.

“I am scared. I do not know what will happen in the future”, says Samadov.

This article was prepared as part of the Giving Voice, Driving Change – from the Borderland to the Steppes Project.

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