Tajikistan: From Refugee Sender to Labor Exporter
One of the countries most reliant on migrant remittances in the world today is not in Latin America or Africa – it is the former Soviet republic of Tajikistan. The International Monetary Fund estimates that Tajikistan receives between $400 million and $1 billion in remittances annually, or between 20 and 50 percent of its total GDP. In a new articlefrom the Migration Information Source, the Migration Policy Institute’s Aaron Erlich provides a comprehensive overview of Tajikistan’s transformation from a state of refugees and internally displaced persons to one of the largest labor exporters in the region. Highlights of his research include:
Labor Export and Remittances
Although not captured in official census statistics, Tajikistan may be the largest emigrant labor supplier per capita in the world. Estimates show that approximately 18 percent of the adult population (600,000 Tajiks) leave the country each year in search of seasonal work. The most popular destination is Russia, which draws about 80 percent of all Tajik labor migrants, with small numbers going to Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. These migrants generally remain in the region, where they have well established social networks and visa requirements are less rigid than for other destinations.
In contrast to this circular migration, previous migrant outflows from Tajikistan had been of refugees fleeing during the country’s civil war.
Refugee sender: the ethnic “un-mixing” of Tajikistan
During the Communist period, the Soviet government redrew country borders, forced ethnic Tajiks to move within the country to meet agricultural labor needs and to create a coherent Tajik identity, and engaged in industrialization that led to large-scale immigration.
Following its independence in 1992, Tajikistan, which had been dependent on Moscow for governance and funding, experienced a civil war. Between 20,000 and 40,000 people were killed and between 500,000 and 600,000 people were internally displaced. During this time, from 60,000 to 75,000 refugees fled to Afghanistan , approximately 20,000 to Kyrgyzstan, and 10,000 to Turkmenistan. Uzbek Tajiks and ethnic German Tajiks were also forced to flee. Almost all of the ethnic minorities that fled Tajikistan during the civil war – particularly ethnic Russians – did not return, leading to a vast ethnic “un-mixing” of Tajikistan.
Refugee recipient: Afghan refugees and transit migrants in Tajikistan
Tajikistan ’s civil war having ended in 1997, several thousand Afghans sought refuge there during Afghanistan’s civil war in 2000. However, very few made it into the country. In one well documented case, despite significant pressure from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the Tajik government refused entry to more than 10,000 Afghan refugees stranded on two islands in the Pyandzh River between the Taliban on one side, and landmines and electrical fence on the Tajik side. They were finally repatriated with the help of the Tajik government, the Russian border forces and the international aid community.
Refugee law and policy in Tajikistan has since been weakened. In 2002, Tajikistan altered its 1994 refugee law such that it no longer complies with the 1951 UN Convention; most notably, refugees may no longer move freely in the country.
In recent years, though, Tajikistan has becomes less a destination for Afghan refugees than a transit country as Afghan migrants make their way to countries of the former Soviet Union or Western Europe. The government of Tajikistan has also improved migration management in areas not related to refugees, particularly to facilitate labor-related migration. The focus for Tajikistan will now be using labor migration and remittances to alleviate poverty and support the development necessary for its success as an independent state.