By Paul Goble
Central Asian gastarbeiters in Russia are sending only one-quarter as much money home this year as last but increasingly they are remaining in Russian rather than returning to their native countries, two trends with potentially serious consequences for both Russia and Central Asia.
On the one hand, this pattern suggests many gastarbeiters in Russia are now unemployed, thus creating a new breeding ground for radicalism and even terrorism there. And on the other, it indicates they have concluded that as bleak as things are in Russia, the situation in Central Asia is still worse, something they are compounding by not sending money back to their families.
That Central Asian gastarbeiters are no longer sending as much money home has been the subject of intense interest both in Moscow and in Central Asia. This year, Russian officials report, gastarbeiters from all CIS countries – and three of the top four are from Central Asia – sent home only 914 million US dollars, down from 3.3 billion US dollars the year before (kommersant.ru/doc/3012643, nazaccent.ru/content/21013-denezhnye-perevody-trudovyh-migrantov-iz-rf.html and tjk.rus4all.ru/city_msk/20160615/726681876.html).
Many have suggested that this decline reflects the departure of gastarbeiters from Russia, but the real reasons, an article in today’s “Nezavisimaya gazeta” says that the causes must be elsewhere because gastarbeiters are not going home in the numbers that they were (ng.ru/politics/2016-06-20/3_migranty.html).
That paper’s Yekaterina Trifonova writes that “gastarbeiters from Central Asia are remaining in Russia as a result of a sense of hopelessness.” They are suffering in Russia but fear they would suffer even more were they to go home, a situation which will incline at least some of them to radicalism or worse.
She quotes the conclusion of Vyacheslav Postavnin, the head of the 21st Century Migration Fooundation, that the Central Asian gastarbeiters reacted to the crisis by thinking about going home but then recognized that the situation in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan is even worse and so decided to remain in Russia.
“Theoretically,” Postavnin continues, the Central Asians might have decided to leave Russia and seek work in the Middle East, but instability there and competition from others dissuaded most from thinking about that option for every long. As a result, they are remaining in place even if their economic prospects are anything but bright.
The only positive aspect of this for Moscow is that Russia’s population has gotten a small boost (newizv.ru/lenta/2016-06-17/241128-v-rossii-vozobnovilsja-pritok-naselenija-za-schet-migrantov.html) and for the Central Asian governments is that the gastarbeiters won’t return soon and become a burden or a threat to them — but may eventually again send money home.