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

Fears of Mass Return of Migrant Workers

The global economic crisis is beginning to result in job cuts in Russia and other countries where hundreds of thousands of Tajiks have found work, leading to fears they will return home en masse.
Winter is always a slack season in the Russian building industry, so many migrants make their back to Tajikistan and wait for things to pick up in the spring. This year, however, there are fears that the continuing financial crisis will mean jobs are slashed in Russia, so many of the Tajiks home for the winter will have no jobs to go back to.

If they stay in Tajikistan, they will put added pressure on an already difficult employment situation – the reason they left in the first place.

Murodali has been away for nearly two years, holding down a job at a Pepsi bottling plant in Moscow. He was made redundant when the company was forced to downsize, but he still hopes he can find other work in Russia.

“God willing, I’ll leave again in a month. I can’t stay here – the wages here are nothing, just pennies,” he said.

Muzaffar Zaripov, who heads a resource centre in Dushanbe that helps migrants, warns that the Tajik authorities need to make contingency plans and create new jobs in case workers start returning in large numbers.

“There might be a flood of people – I’m saying it’s possible, though it’s still unclear. So far the trend hasn’t been that strong. But we do need to think about it,” he said.

Political analyst Rashid Abdullo says the Tajik government is well aware that a huge influx of people and the social problems that might ensue could pose a risk to political stability. The government raises the matter in meetings with the Russian authorities, who Abdullo says also have no interest in seeing the Tajiks go home en masse.

* * *

Traffic Jams in Dushanbe

In a report on why traffic is increasingly clogged up in the Tajik capital, reporter Farzona Abdulkaisova found a simple explanation – too many cars on too few roads.

The traffic is so bad that people are having to get up earlier and earlier just to get to work.

Traffic police spokesman Habibullo Munavvarov confirms that increasing numbers of cars are being imported into Tajikistan. Customs data show that at least 50,000 vehicles were imported from January through November 2008, which means there are some 400,000 on the roads of Tajikistan.

In the capital, the worst traffic jams are outside the city centre. Drivers say this is because the “marshrutkas”, minbuses that serve as communal taxis, have been banned from main thoroughfares and now clog up the minor roads, which are too narrow to cope with the added flow.

The latest rumour is that the roads are to be widened at the expense of pavements – which would not only be bad news for pedestrians, but would spell the end for the trees which line the street. In fact, IWPR discovered that the trees are safe, but there is an urban redevelopment plan in place under which some roads will be rebuilt and new ones laid.

* * *

Coal is King

Until recently, coal was decidedly out of fashion as a fuel for urban homes in Tajikistan. Now it is back in the shops, and selling fast. Reporter Olfat Sharalieva found out why.

People who live in apartment blocks used to be able to rely on having electricity all the time. That is no longer the case, as last year’s extremely harsh winter showed.

As the power infrastructure got overloaded and failed in freezing temperatures, people improvised. Even though she lives in a Dushanbe apartment on the sixth floor, Farzona Bakoeva rigged up a stove to keep her family, especially her small child, warm.

“Last year was quite an experience for us, so this year we’ve bought in our coal early and we’re hoping we get through the winter better,” she told IWPR. “Although they’re promising there won’t be any power cuts, there already have been some outages. That’s extremely tough for families with small children.

By the time Farzona bought emergency coal supplies last year, prices had skyrocketed. This year, the city authorities are confident that they have laid in enough coal and other fuels. Prices will be held down and coal will sell at cost price.

More IWPR's Global Voices