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

Russia: Tajiks Face Deportation

Forcible repatriation of Tajik migrants will exacerbate Dushanbe's chronic economic problems.
By Vladimir Davlatov

Russia's decision to toughen its immigration controls has sparked fears over the fate of the country's large Tajik population.


Every year, more than half a million Tajiks travel to Russia - the majority illegal immigrants - to find seasonal work. The Moscow authorities have already deported dozens of them, and this number is set to grow in the coming weeks.


Analysts believe a mass return of migrants may lead to a crisis in Tajikistan, the poorest Central Asian republic, which is still recovering from five years of bloody civil war and struggles to feed, never mind employ, its people.


The tough new controls came into force on November 1, with Andrei Chernenko, head of the federal immigration service, declaring that every migrant seeking a job in Russia must now possess an immigration card and be registered in Moscow.


"If a foreigner does not show the required documents, according to the new law he will be deported to his home country," said Chernenko.


Tajikistan's desperate economic situation has forced hundreds of thousands of young men to leave the republic in search of work. Dushanbe's migration department told IWPR that around half a million of them have ended up in Russia and rarely, if ever, return home.


The money migrant workers - mostly employed in the construction industry or in Moscow's markets - send back helps their families stave off destitution and hunger. According to the international immigration organisation, remittances come to around 20 million US dollars annually.


The Moscow city internal affairs department told IWPR that the first 70 illegal immigrants are to be deported back to Tajikistan shortly.


This situation is causing enormous concern within the Tajik diaspora. "I really don't want to leave here. We will have nothing to feed our families in Tajikistan," Tajik market worker Ubaid Kholov told IWPR.


The Moscow regional Tajik society Osmon defended the workers, insisting that the majority of them have the necessary documentation, but unscrupulous employers confiscate their papers.


There are currently around 30,000 to 40,000 Tajiks living in Moscow alone. The Russian authorities took steps earlier this year to limit the influx by cancelling the Dushanbe-Moscow train, but would-be migrants simply caught a train from Astrakhan instead.


In Russia, there's little sympathy for the Tajiks both because some are connected with the drugs trade and the escalation of widespread suspicion of people from Central Asia and the Caucasus following the Moscow theatre tragedy.


"Tajiks used to be simply detained, fined and released but now, following the recent act of terrorism, they are deported home," said one journalist from an influential Moscow newspaper, who wished to remain anonymous.


Vladimir Davlatov is the pseudonym of a journalist in Tajikistan


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