By Paul Goble
While the number of Central Asian gastarbeiters in Russia has fallen, their ranks in Kazakhstan have dramatically swollen from 509,000 in 2011 to 945,000 now, an increase with serious consequences for the domestic situation in Kazakhstan and for Astana’s relations with the three donor countries, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
Almost all of the increase in the number of Central Asian gastarbeiters in Kazakhstan has been the product of declines in their numbers in the Russian Federation, according to a study by the International Migration Organization summarized by Kazakh journalist Botagoz Seydakhmetova (exclusive.kz/trudovaya_migraciya_menyaet_vektor).
The IMO predicts this trend will continue for at least a decade and that Central Asians who can no longer find work in Russia will choose to go to Turkey if that is possible but more likely to Kazakhstan where they already form large communities. Most of those in Kazakhstan are Uzbeks, and that pattern too, the IMO suggests, will continue as well.
Uzbek, Tajik and Kyrgyz gastarbeiters in Kazakhstan have taken over distinct niches in the Kazakhstan economy. The Uzbeks control much of the restaurant business in Almaty and Astana; the Tajiks sell fruits and vegetables; and the Kyrgyz are involved in both food supplies and restaurant work.
But there are three things they have in common: all find it more difficult to send money home from Kazakhstan than from Russia, a large share of them are in the country illegally with all the negative consequences that entails, and most are afraid to turn to the authorities because they don’t trust the regime.
As a result, they represent potentially fertile ground for the flourishing of Islamist ideas and thus create a security problem inside Kazakhstan and a source of tensions in its relations with the three countries, especially Uzbekistan, that are the homelands of this group of gastarbeiters which has received less international attention than it deserves.