Tajikistan: No Jobs for Returning Migrants

Many plan to go back to Russia despite declining job prospects there.

Tajikistan: No Jobs for Returning Migrants

Many plan to go back to Russia despite declining job prospects there.

The global economic crisis has led thousands of Tajiks working in Russia to come home, but many say they are determined to go back despite the shortage of jobs.

Up to 1.5 million of the seven million population of Tajikistan work abroad, mainly in Russia, and the money they send home is a major source of income for households, and is believed to be equivalent to twice the annual government budget.

In a survey by the Tajik ministry of labour and social welfare among 6,000 returning migrants, 70 per cent of respondents said they had come back because of the economic crisis. A minority – 40 per cent – said they wanted to remain in Tajikistan until the Russian crisis eased, and hoped to find jobs in the agricultural sector or start their own business.

When the Dushanbe-based think tank Sharq conducted its own study, it found that migration levels from Tajikistan had fallen by 20 per cent, with money remittances declining by 35 per cent.

The Sharq study showed that the people who are still going off to wealthier countries like Russia and Kazakstan and are finding jobs there tend to be better educated, more experienced and full of initiative, but are also prepared to take on any work that comes along and put up with tough conditions.

Those who are sitting out the crisis back in Tajikistan fall into two categories – low-skilled under-24s, and better-off people with more ambition.


For Tajikistan, with a surplus of labour since Soviet times, migration helped solve the unemployment problem especially after the economy was battered by the collapse of the Soviet Union and by the civil war of 1992-97.

The government has tried to counter the effects of global economic crisis and shrinking labour markets abroad by creating new jobs at home.

According to deputy minister of labour and social welfare Subkhon Ashurov, his ministry is planning to create 180,000 new jobs in farming and the construction industry. Former migrants may also receive plots of land and business training to help them get started. Career fairs are being held all over the country, and the ministry is planning to create an electronic job vacancy database and to work with employers to identify their needs.

“These measures will provide support to migrants in search of work,” said Ashurov.

However, returning migrants say that when work is available, it pays much less than even low-wage jobs in Russia.

The Tajik interior ministry has a special department for migration, whose offices in Russia have been taking action on behalf of workers whose wages are being paid late or not at all.

Journalist Jamoliddin Saifiddinov says that the government should be doing more. “We need to provide favourable conditions for producers, relieve the tax burden, and support small businesses. Only through such measures can we can provide jobs for our citizens,” he said.


Interviews which IWPR conducted among returning migrants in four different areas, and among Tajiks still working in Moscow, indicate a strong desire to return to Russia or remain there because work is so thin on the ground in Tajikistan.

Sodik, 25, from the capital Dushanbe, has been looking for a job for three months. “The jobs on offer at the career fairs are usually low paid. That is why I go from one building site to another, because people say that wages are higher in the construction sector.”

The wages offered at career fairs are usually below 600 somoni (135 US dollars) a month, while in Russia Sodik used to get 700 dollars for the same work. After several years in Russia, Sodik managed to earn enough money to buy a one-room flat in Dushanbe.

“It’s unbearable working under very difficult conditions when you are far away from your family. But we got paid good money and we were able to feed our families,” said Sodik.

Now he is going to wait until the autumn and then go to Russia again, in hope that the situation has improved,

“Russia is a great country. It will find a way out of the crisis, and there probably won’t be any problem with jobs this autumn,” he said

Samad, 34, in Khorog, the main town in Badakhshan, a remote high-mountain region in southeastern Tajikistan, came home after six years in Russia. But he has now given up the hunt for a reasonably well-paid job and will return to Yekaterinburg soon.

“Friends said life in Tajikistan had got better, and that there were many construction projects going on where one could earn the same wages as in Russia,” he said.

He spent two months looking for a job on a building site but found there were very few around and the wages offered were extremely low.

“My family is now living off the money I brought from Russia. I don’t know what we’ll do when it runs out,” he said.

According to Nazarbek Mamadnazarov, a lawyer at the Information Centre for Labour Migrants in Badakhshan province, out of 27,000 labour migrants from the area who annually leave Tajikistan for seasonal jobs abroad, about 1,500 returned in the first half of 2009. Of them, 200 went abroad again and more want to follow them after tasting life at home.

“The jobs on offer in Khorog are usually poorly paid. With prices rising each day, migrants are forced to go abroad again just to feed their families,” said Mamadnazarov.

It is a similar story in the more industrial Sogd province, in northern Tajikistan, where a majority of returning migrants cannot find jobs.

Mother of three Etibor Ataeva in Kanibadam worked for six months in St Petersburg as the family breadwinner when her husband had serious health problems. Although she trained as a teacher, she took work selling from a kiosk and was able to earn enough to provide medication for her husband and feed the family.

“Because of the crisis, all of us traders were laid off, and the management kept only local staff. The others were fired,” said Etibor. “I’m desperate and I don’t know what to do. The job market in Kanibadam is absolutely full ... local enterprises are similarly trying to survive the crisis. Some of them have closed down, and their staff forced to take leave without pay.”

According to independent expert Firuz Saidov, migrants have been hit by the difficult economic situation in Tajikistan, the poorest country in Central Asia with around half the population living below the poverty line in 2008.

Saidov also says that the knock-on effect of the global economic crisis can already be felt in Tajikistan – some banks have gone bankrupt, factories have closed, prices for key export commodities aluminium and cotton have dropped, and migrant remittances have fallen.

Many jobs in Tajikistan were created as a result of remittances, whose contribution to gross domestic product has been estimated at between 30 and 50 per cent.

Tajik migrants who have spent several years working in Russia find it hard adjusting to wages at home.

“A migrant can expect a wage of 1,000 dollars, but even if the crisis means he gets paid only 300-400 dollars, he wouldn’t get the same pay in Tajikistan,” said Saidov.

Khatlon, a large and mainly agricultural province in southern Tajikistan, is the country’s largest exporter of labour to Russia and Kazakstan.

According to Izatullo Ismoilov, who heads the interior ministry’s migration department in Khatlon, 44,000 have returned since September 2008, far more than in previous periods.

The question now is how many of them are going back or plan to do so.

Jurakhon Vohidov, who heads the government employment department in Qurghonteppa, a major town in the western part of Khatlon, said most of those who returned from Russia with the onset of the economic crisis have already left again.

“We expected to see rising unemployment and fluctuations of the labour market but it hasn’t happened, he said. The Qurghonteppa labour market has remained stable because many migrants have returned to Russia,” he said.

According to Khatlon passport department, 140,000 of the region’s 2.6 million people are currently abroad.


At the same time, there are some migrants in Qurghonteppa who do not plan to go abroad any more. These are often low-skilled workers who do not speak Russian well, and who found it hard to find employment for sustained periods when they were abroad before.

Olim, 38, from the Bokhtar district, worked in Moscow and St. Petersburg for five years doing casual work on building sites. He always managed to earn enough to send something back to his family.

However, the crisis made Olim’s hard life even more miserable.

“I couldn’t find a job for four months. I had to live anywhere I could and went hungry at times. Those were the worst months of my life,” he recalled. “I don’t want to go back to Russia. Even if I get paid less here, I would like to work in Tajikistan.”

Two months after Olim returned to Tajikistan, he is picking up small repair jobs in private homes.

“There are some Tajiks in Russia who have good jobs, but you wouldn’t change places with some of the migrants,” he said.

Mahmadrahim, also from Bokhtar, said the job situation in Russia was making life harder and harder for Tajiks there. Some spend months looking for a job, and then cannot afford to come back to Tajikistan because they do not have the money for a ticket.

For those at home, the summer finds them busy in their gardens and allotments, planting potatoes, onions, tomatoes and other vegetables to eat or sell.

“Many of them are going back to Russia again, because it’s impossible to survive on what you grow in your vegetable plot,” said Mahmadrahim.

Tajiks and other migrants from Central Asia and the Caucasus face discrimination and racist hostility in Russia. Several newspapers in Tajikistan launched a campaign of protest against the hostile faced by labour migrants in Russia last winter, when 20-year-old Salohiddin Azizov was beheaded by Russian nationalists in Moscow.

Life may be tough in Russia, but many Tajiks are hanging on there, either in work or looking for jobs, and hoping that the crisis will end sooner than experts predict.

In a telephone interview with IWPR, Nazar, 25, who lives in Moscow, said he had been unemployed for two months but would not be returning to Tajikistan, although he had enough money to pay for the trip.

He estimated that 40 per cent of his Tajik friends in Moscow had lost their jobs, but many planned to stay on , especially those who planned to apply for permanent residence in Russia.

Nafisa Pisaredjeva, Sairahmon Nazriev, and Bakhtior Valiev are IWPR-trained journalists in Tajikistan.

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