Uzbek State Faces Influx of Returning Migrants

Uzbek State Faces Influx of Returning Migrants

Monday, 13 April, 2009
NBCentral Asia observers are warning that the authorities in Uzbekistan need to take steps to cope with the large numbers of migrant workers expected to return from Russia and Kazakstan this year.

They say the Uzbek government should make diplomatic efforts to reduce the exodus the exodus of workers from those countries, and set up major new agricultural and industrial projects to create jobs for those who do come back.

On March 9, the CA-News website cited the Rapid Response Group, an independent analytical and human rights group based in Uzbekistan, as reporting a 90 per cent fall in the remittances that workers send back home. This figure was based on a survey conducted among staff at banks in Tashkent and elsewhere in the country from January 20 to February 20.

The figures indicates that the effects of global financial crisis in Russia and Kazakstan are translating into job losses for migrants from Central Asian republics like Uzbekistan, and also into a steep decline in their ability to send some of their earnings back to their families, for whom the money is a vital income source.

On average, the migrants used to send 500 US dollars home every month. According to the World Bank, Uzbek workers abroad sent about two billion dollars in remittances last year.

In January this year, the Russian government banned migrants from working at open markets – a traditional occupation for Uzbeks. At the same time, Kazakstan set quotas for foreign labour.

These changes are likely to add to the impetus for Uzbek workers to return home.

The authorities do not publish figures for how many people are working abroad, but the Initiative Group of Independent Human Rights Activists based in Tashkent estimates there are some five million of them.

If a proportion do come back, this could exacerbate tensions created by unemployment and low living standards in Uzbekistan.

The authorities have launched an anti-crisis programme designed to revitalise major firms and support manufacturers and exporters through debt restructuring, cheap loans and tax breaks, but analysts fear this will not be enough. Instead, they say, Uzbekistan needs a whole package of measures to mitigate the consequences of falling remittances and an influx of people seeking work at home.

There are several things that could be done, for instance, negotiating with the Russian and Kazak government to encourage people to settle there on a more permanent basis.

“There are a number of practical matters to be resolved – arranging things so that Uzbeks are not forced to change their citizenship, help them settle as communities, provide them with start-up payments and loans, and help them find accommodation and work,” said Viktor Ivonin, an independent analyst in Tashkent.

Ivonin said such measures would benefit Uzbekistan, which would not have to absorb the returning labour force, and Russia and Kazakstan, which could boost their respective agricultural sectors with the extra labour available.

Some other commentators believe Uzbekistan is capable of coping with the migrants on its own. It might, for example, follow the example of China, which is investing in public infrastructure projects such as transport and accelerating agricultural reforms in the hope of creating large numbers of jobs.

“What Uzbekistan needs is watershed decisions and powerhouse projects, which will minimise the negative effects of falling remittances and returning migrants,” said Vladimir Paramonov, an economic analyst in Tashkent.

(NBCentralAsia is an IWPR-funded project to create a multilingual news analysis and comment service for Central Asia, drawing on the expertise of a broad range of political observers across the region. The project ran from August 2006 to September 2007, covering all five regional states. With new funding, the service has resumed, covering Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.)

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