Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Central Asia: June ‘07

Report on problems faced by families of migrant workers who’ve died in Russia draws praise from officials, academics and activists.
IWPR RCA has received much positive feedback for its investigative report The Cost of Dying
Abroad for Central Asians
, published in May, which looked at the difficulties relatives of dead migrant workers face in transporting the bodies of their love ones back from Russia.

In response to the report, organisations representing Central Asian economic migrants, international NGOs and government officials have all pointed out the importance of highlighting the difficult life of migrants working in Russia, which is a subject neglected by local media.

According to Davlatali Nazriev, head of the information department at Tajik foreign ministry, the IWPR investigation was invaluable in providing the most comprehensive information to date on one of the most serious problems related to working abroad - returning the remains of migrants who die in Russia.

“Due to lack of information we are not able to raise this issue at the highest [political] level. Therefore reports like this can contribute to the solution of this problem,” said Nazriev.

He also suggested a possible reason why this topic has not been covered by the local press, which is subject to some restrictions, “Unfortunately, there are certain people in Russia who create obstacles for transporting bodies of deceased migrants.”

Natalia Prilutskaya, from the Human Rights and Social Justice Research Institute at London Metropolitan University, was also impressed with the report, which she said was the first to investigate the difficulties faced by relatives of dead migrants.

“No one before has touched upon and made a thorough investigation into such an issue as returning bodies of dead migrants back home and all the circles of hell that the relatives of the deceased have to go through in order to be able to transport the bodies to be buried back at home,” she said.

She said the investigation successfully conveyed the myriad problems families encounter.

“Interviews with the families of the deceased present a clear-cut picture of the psychological distress, humiliation, vulnerability to abuses and extreme financial difficulties that the families are thrown into,” she added.

Prilutskaya also noted that the report tackled a previously unspoken aspect of this problem - the response of the Russian government to ethnically motivated attacks on migrants working in the country.

“Among other issues that are fairly raised in the article is the responsibility of the Russian government for cases of racially motivated attacks and obligation to provide financial compensation when such cases occur,” she went on.

The article not only raised awareness of this particular problem, drawing it to the attention of the Russian and Central Asian authorities, but also highlighted “the whole knot of problems arising out of extensive labour migration”.

Prilutskaya said that the piece has also inspired and stimulated further research into the problem of migrants dying abroad by domestic and international NGOs and research institutes.

IWPR is assisting the London-based Human Rights and Social Justice Research Institute to find local partners for a future project planned to conduct research into protection available for Central Asian migrants in Russia and to look at possible solutions to the problems they face.

Investigations such as the IWPR report raise awareness about the perils of working abroad and help to inform prospective migrants about difficulties they might encounter, said Kyrgyz Ombudsman Tursunbai Bakir-uulu.

“Those who are leaving to go abroad should think whether it is worth leaving for an uncertainty in a faraway land. Foreign countries do not always turn out to be paradise - problems and even tragedies can happen,” he said.

According to Тolekan Ismailova, head of a leading NGO in Kyrgyzstan, "Any information [related to the lives of migrants], even depressing reports about transportation of bodies, should be raised in the media.”

Human rights activists believe that bringing this issue into the public domain will help to prompt the authorities of the countries affected to tackle the problem.

Ismailova said that as the Kyrgyz government can be considered responsible for people having to leave Kyrgyzstan, they should do more to help.

“The authorities should undertake steps to relieve difficulties the relatives of deceased migrants have to go through. …People are forced to leave Kyrgyzstan and the state that was not able to provide them with employment in the first place should help in bringing bodies back,” she said.

Parviz Mullodjanov, director of a debating club in the Tajik capital, Dushanbe, says that international media organisations such as IWPR play a vital role in publicising problems that the local media have difficulty covering.

“This is one of the uncomfortable topics which many [local] journalists prefer to avoid. It is not only for journalists that such topics are inconvenient but also for those in power, for bureaucrats and politicians, many of whom are directly responsible for [the existence of economic migration],” he said.

He says media restrictions in Tajikistan mean that local journalists are often reluctant to report on sensitive issues,

“It is doubtful that in the foreseeable future, the Tajik media will be able to provide this kind of level of open reporting on problems like this without thinking what the authorities’ reaction would be.”

Another recent IWPR report that garnered positive feedback was Renewed Focus on US Base in Kyrgyzstan - a piece which looked at the debate surrounding the presence of the US airbase in the country.

Mark Cameron, public affairs officer at the US Embassy in Bishkek, congratulated the author of the report and said it was the best story he had seen on the airbase in the Kyrgyz press.

“It was factual and balanced, and presented different opinions – positive and negative – on an important and sensitive issue,” he said.

He praised IWPR for its role in facilitating the report.

“An independent and responsible press is a fundamental element of a democratic society. IWPR may be proud of the role they play in assisting Kyrgyz press to become more free and more professional,” he said.