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The Problem of Human Rights: A Case Study of Tajik Immigrants in Russia

Davlat Khudonazarov, President, "FOCUS" Humanitarian Foundation, Moscow, and Galina Starovoitova Fellow on Human Rights and Conflict Resolution, Kennan Institute

Date & Time

Mar. 29, 2005
1:30pm – 3:30pm ET


At a recent Kennan Institute talk, Davlat Khudonazarov, President, "FOCUS" Humanitarian Foundation, Moscow, and Galina Starovoitova Fellow on Human Rights and Conflict Resolution, Kennan Institute, discussed the causes and effects of labor migration from Tajikistan to Russia. He argued that since the end of the civil war that raged in Tajikistan throughout most of the 1990s, out-migration has become the country's most serious problem. According to Khudonazarov, Tajiks are historically a settled people and not given to migration. The 1989 Soviet census reported that 36,000 Tajiks were living outside of their historic homelands of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Today, official statistics indicate that 126,000 Tajiks are living in Russia, and Khudonazarov believes that the actual number is as high as 600,000. He noted that this means 20 to 25 percent of adult Tajiks live outside of Tajikistan.

Tajiks migrate to Russia, according to Khudonazarov, because the economy of Tajikistan has not recovered from the civil war that ended in 1997—unemployment rates are high and salaries are low. At the same time, many Tajiks have not come to terms with the collapse of the Soviet Union and do not see Russia as a separate country. However, Khudonazarov argued that although migration appears desirable to many Tajiks, it can be a very difficult and dangerous endeavor. Tajiks can legally enter Russia without a visa, but Russia's system of residence permits (the propiska system) makes it effectively impossible for Tajiks to live and work legally in Russia, he contended. The weak position of Tajik immigrants puts them at the mercy of their employers and criminal groups: they work long hours at dangerous jobs for little pay, their salaries are withheld or stolen from them, and they—as well as other non-Slavic migrants—are subject to attacks from ultra-nationalist gangs.

Tajik migrants send significant amounts of money to their families, Khudonazarov said. The total amount of remittances is equal to the state budget, and many families could not survive without them. But labor migration has a detrimental effect on Tajikistan as well, according to Khudonazarov. Negative results of migration include: fewer marriages, lower birthrates, the collapse of the traditional family structure, lower status of women, and the spread of infectious diseases.

Khudonazarov believes that it would be possible to organize migration in a way that would be beneficial to both Russia and Tajikistan. Russia needs immigrants to offset its demographic decline and maintain economic growth, while Tajikistan needs ties to the stronger Russian economy to support its population. Khudonazarov advocates that Russia liberalize its migration regime and that Tajiks migrate to Russia as family units and strive to become legal and long-term residents of Russia. However, he argued, neither side has expressed much interest in creating a permanent, legal community of Tajik immigrants. Tajiks hope to return to their homeland and are not interested in working to legalize their status or bring their families. Russia, for its part, has not taken advantage of the opportunity to recruit skilled Russian-speaking migrants from Tajikistan and other former Soviet republics. Khudonazarov noted that Putin and other Russian officials appear to recognize the necessity of immigration to Russia, but little has been done to liberalize the migration regime or make life easier for migrants.


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Kennan Institute

The Kennan Institute is the premier US center for advanced research on Eurasia and the oldest and largest regional program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. The Kennan Institute is committed to improving American understanding of Russia, Ukraine, Central Asia, the South Caucasus, and the surrounding region though research and exchange.  Read more

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