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Tajikistan: From Refugee Sender to Labor Exporter

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Tajikistan: From Refugee Sender to Labor Exporter

Modern Tajikistan, which borders China, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan, is the poorest former Soviet republic. Since antiquity, regional migration has occurred through as well as within Tajikistan along Silk Road trading routes and in mountainous areas.

Indeed, mountains dominate the territory, covering 90 percent of the land, and half this area is over 10,000 feet above sea level. The eastern mountains in the Gordno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast (GBAO), which cover 45 percent of Tajik territory, contain only three percent of the population. The lowlands, and hence the main population centers, are in the northern panhandle and the southwest, where the capital Dushanbe is located. Mountain ranges with peaks of over 18,000 feet divide the northern panhandle and southwest.

In the 15 years since its declared independence, Tajikistan has transformed itself from a state of internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees to one of the largest regional labor exporters. However, many different migratory patterns persist in Tajikistan, and the country simultaneously remains a large exporter of labor, a transit country, a refugee-sending country, and a refugee-receiving country in a poorly understood and understudied part of the world.

Early Migration History

The lands that encompass modern-day Tajikistan were usually thought of in the Western world as part of Central Asia, a vast region extending from western China to the shores of the Caspian Sea. Recorded history in Central Asia begins approximately 2,500 years ago. Persian-speaking nomadic tribes originally immigrated to the area. Indeed, the word stan, which falls at the end of all Central Asian country names, means "place" or "tent" in Persian.

Among the most famous movements of people through Tajikistan were the traders that moved along the Silk Road, a collection of trade routes that connected China and Europe. Three of these main routes passed through Tajikistan, which brought new ideas and products to the region.

Throughout early history, the territory itself was controlled by many empires, but the population of Central Asia remained predominantly Persian and pagan until the 13th century, when Turkic-speaking Mongolian tribes conquered most of Eurasia. These tribes brought Islam and Turkic languages to the region.

However, unlike all the other countries in Central Asia, the Tajiks continued to speak Persian dialects. Tajikistan's larger Uzbek and smaller Kyrgyz minorities, both of which speak Turkic languages, are evidence of this early Mongol influence. Though some believe they came much earlier, it is likely that during the 13th century the majority of Bukharan Jews, who speak a Persian dialect mixed with Hebrew words, also migrated to Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

Russia's contact with Central Asia dates back centuries. However, it was not until the 19th century, during the expansion of European imperial power, that Russia saw the vast land resources of Central Asia as valuable assets. In addition, Russia was also suspicious of Britain's intentions in the region, as Britain then controlled most of South Asia.

Between 1873 and 1876, Russia conquered the lands of three weak Central Asian khanates, or kingdoms, of Khokand, Bukhara, and Khiva, which had been racked by internecine war. In its newly conquered territories, Russia established two governates, Turkestan and the Steppe district; Tajikistan was originally part of the Governate General of Turkestan.

In 1895, the British and the Russians agreed that the Pyandzh River, also known as the Oxus and the Amu Darya, would be the border between the Russian and British Empires. This river eventually became the border between Tajikistan and Afghanistan, which later caused problems for Afghan refugees, because the course of the river constantly shifts, making the border ambiguous.

In the waning days of the Russian empire, Russian and Ukrainian settlers, who were Slavic, Orthodox Christians, began to migrate to Central Asia in large numbers to work in the cotton industry and fill government positions. Two million settled in Central Asia by 1917. However, few made their way to Tajikistan, which only had an estimated Russian and Ukrainian population of 5,600 in 1926; the area remained an imperial backwater.

Before large-scale Slavic immigration into Tajikistan in the 1930s, the Russian authorities began to shape migration patterns that persist today. Tajiks, who resided in rural areas, particularly in the mountains, began to descend into the region’s richer cities and valleys to do seasonal work created by the Russian empire. Tajiks traditionally worked in construction, carting, or in cotton ginneries in the prerevolutionary Russian economy but remained a rural-based society. Seasonal work, which disappeared during the Soviet era because of the Soviet authorities' strict control of both labor and population movements, returned with the Soviet Union's demise. However, in the post-Soviet era, most Tajiks travel much greater distances to find work.

The Communist Period and the Formation of Tajikistan

The Russian civil war of 1917 to 1921 affected Tajikistan as an estimated 200,000 to 480,000 people, many of whom participated in the basmachi uprising, fled to Afghanistan, substantially shrinking Tajikistan's population; only a small portion of these people later returned.

When the Russian empire collapsed, the new communist regime decided to break up the two Russian imperial Central Asian governates into five units along ethnolinguistic lines, in part to prevent pan-Islamism. These units included two Soviet Socialist Republics (SSRs) and three autonomous republics (ASSRs) within the SSRs.

Borders did not correspond very well to the physical location of these ethnolinguistic groups. Populations in many areas were intermixed, and the authorities in Moscow drew the borders to create large pockets of nontitular minorities within each republic in order to diffuse power.

Tajikistan's borders were drawn with large pockets of Uzbeks and smaller numbers of Kyrgyz. In 1929, the Tajik autonomous republic was separated from the Uzbek SSR. As a result, the traditional Tajik (Persian) cultural and population centers of Samarkand and Bukhara were located in Uzbekistan. Furthermore, the agriculturally rich Ferghana Valley was divided between Uzbek, Tajik, and Kyrgyz SSRs, a division still present in the borders of independent Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan.

Within this new geographical entity, Soviet industrialization greatly changed the population composition of Tajikistan. While there was immense population growth due to high birth rates combined with lower infant mortality rates, immigration also greatly contributed to population growth. The number of Russians and Ukrainians increased from an estimated 5,600 in 1926 to 153,000 in 1939 according to the USSR census.

The Russian and Ukrainian population nearly doubled again between 1939 and 1959, and composed 14.7 percent of the population by 1959 (see Table 1). These immigrants came, some by force and some by choice, to work in the cotton industry and to take positions in the Soviet government. Most of these communities, which were concentrated in urban centers, did not mix with the local, mostly rural, Tajik and Uzbek communities. In addition to the Russian and Ukrainian immigrants, approximately 57,000 Tatars and 33,000 Germans were deported to Tajikistan as the result of perceived Nazi complicity during World War II. After Stalin's period of forced labor for these groups ended, many became white-collar professionals in Tajikistan's towns.

In addition to changing the ethnic composition of Tajikistan, the Soviet authorities forced many ethnic Tajik communities to move within Tajikistan in order to supply agricultural labor, create a coherent Tajik identity by dispersing tribal and clan groups, tajikify Uzbek parts of northern Tajikistan, and settle uninhabited frontier regions.

For instance, in 1925, the state organized the transfer of over 55,000 households from mountainous areas to the northern Leninobod (now Sughd) region to work in agriculture in the Ferghana Valley. Additionally, between 1933 and 1941, over 26,000 Tajik households were forcibly relocated to the southern frontier near Afghanistan to populate the region. Conditions on the border were primitive, and many residents did not have houses. Such policies continued sporadically throughout the Soviet era.

After the Fall: Civil War and Displacement

Tajikistan became an independent state on January 1, 1992. Like many other former Soviet republics, the country faced terrible economic, ecological, and societal problems, and had an inept, ex-Soviet leader.

Tajikistan, the poorest republic in Soviet Central Asia, had relied on Moscow for both funding and governance. Therefore, the collapse of the Soviet Union did not leave Tajikistan equipped to rule itself. The civil war, which began in 1992 over an electoral protest, led almost all ethnic minorities to emigrate and created massive demographic upheaval.

Before the Soviet Union, Tajiks, as a group, had never had a coherent identity. They spoke various Persian dialects, often hardly intelligible to one another. In particular, groups like the Yaghnabis and Pamiris, who speak East Iranian dialects, were not understood by most other Tajiks. With the collapse of the state, Tajiks fell back on older forms of belonging. While Islam remained important to many Tajiks, the form of membership that dominated was the avlod, or clan.

Although the Soviets attempted to abolish the premodern clans of Central Asia, they had actually strengthened patronage networks since communism suppressed an active civil society, and people were forced to rely on private networks to survive. Therefore, unlike many of the Caucasian and European conflicts in the former Soviet Republics, where civil war was ethnic war, in Tajikistan, complicated clan warfare, in which clans were loosely aligned by region, broke out. All other nontribal ethnic groups fled the country in large numbers although the Uzbeks also participated in the civil war, which ended in 1997.

During the civil war, terror of all kinds was common. As one commentator noted, "Civilians, who are normally averse to any forms of violence, abetted their 'own' militias in a belief that only the terror could deter the other side and claimed their violence was a just act of retaliation."

Clan allegiance determined where people fled, and many ethnic Tajiks returned to their mountainous, ancestral villages. While estimates vary significantly, during this time the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) claims that 500,000 to 600,000 people were internally displaced within Tajikistan and between 20,000 and 40,000 were killed. Between 60,000 and 75,000 Tajiks fled to Afghanistan, and many drowned trying to cross the Pyandzh River.

In 1993, a faction supported by the elites in the northwestern part of the country but politically dominated by the southern town of Kulob took control of most of the country with the help of Russia and Uzbekistan. Between 1993 and 1995, nearly all IDPs returned home, and almost all refugees returned from Afghanistan.

In 1997, a power-sharing agreement was reached with the opposition, further stabilizing the country. Part of the agreement was the "Protocol on Refugees." The protocol helped to reintegrate the remaining refugees who wished to return home. A law that helped the displaced recover their property made this process smoother. As of 2006, UNHCR says Tajikistan has no IDPs and all refugees have been repatriated from Afghanistan.

The Ethnic Unmixing of Tajikistan: Non-Ethnic Tajik Emigration

Almost all of the ethnic minorities that fled Tajikistan during the civil war did not return, as demonstrated by Tajikistan’s first census conducted in 2000. Although Tajikistan does not measure net migration by nationality, the census shows that between 1989 and 2000 Tajikistan became significantly more Tajik: 79.9 percent in 2000 compared with 62.3 percent in 1989 (see Table 2).


Table 2. Demographic Development in Tajikistan, 1989 to 2000^
Nationality Total Population Percent Change Percent of Total Population
1989 2000 1989-2000 1989 2000
Tajik 3,172,420 4,898,382 54.4 62.3 79.9
Uzbek 1,197,841 936,703 -21.8 23.5 15.3
Russian 388,481 68,171 -82.5 7.6 1.1
Kyrgyz 63,832 65,515 2.6 1.3 0.8
Lakaie ** 51,101 ** ** 0.3
Turkmen 20,487 20,270 -1.1 0.4 0.3
Tatar 72,228 18,939 -73.8 1.4 0.2
Kongrat ** 15,102 ** ** 0.2
Arab 276 14,450 5,135.5 0 0.1
Ukrainian 41,375 3,787 -90.8 0.8 0.0
Korean 13,431 1,696 -87.4 0.3 0.0
German 32,671 1,136 -96.5 0.6 0.0
Kazakh 11,376 936 -91.8 0.2 0.0
Jew^^ 14,766 197 -98.7 0.3 0.0
Total 5,092,603 6,127,493 20.3    
^Only groups with more than 10,00 persons in either year are shown.
^^Jews are considered one group until the 1989 Census, when they are broken into several groups. These groups are added together in this table.
Source: Table adapted from Rowland 2005 using Tajik 2000 Census Data.

One reason for the increase could be that many ethnic Tajiks came from Uzbekistan; the size of this population, although unknown, is estimated at between 100,000 and 200,000. However, this number is very inaccurate, since some Uzbeks now identify as Tajik. Even considering high fertility levels among Tajiks, the change in population makeup, according to most observers, can only be attributed to ethnic-minority emigration.

The largest and most important outflow from Tajikistan has been the ethnic Russian population. In reality, Russians started leaving Central Asia in the 1960s as they began to lose their position of privilege; higher education standards for ethnic Tajiks allowed Tajiks to fill many important governmental positions. Some Russians returned to Russia or moved to other Soviet republics.

Mass Russian exodus, however, did not occur until Tajik independence, as the civil war made it dangerous for Russians to stay (see Table 3). Furthermore, a 1992 law abolished Russian as the language of interethnic communication, making Tajik the only official language, and Russians saw little future in Tajikistan. Russia had no refugee laws between 1993 and 1999, and so it is difficult to measure the exact scope of the refugee population. However, it is clear the most ethnic Russians returned to Russia.


Table 3. Emigration During the Tajik Civil War by Nationality, 1989 and 1996
  Population by Nationality Change from 1989 to 1996
  percent thousands
Ethnic group 1989 1996 1989 1996 percent Total natural increase net migration
Tajiks 62.1 68.1 3,172 4,006 26.3 834 715 119
Uzbeks 23.4 24.4 1,198 1,435 19.8 237 265 -28
Russians 7.6 3.4 388 199 -48.9 -190 -2 -188
Other 6.9 4.1 350 244 -30.4 -106 63 -169
Total 100 100 5,109 5,109 15.2 775 1,040 -266
^Data comes from the end of the year 1989, which explains the difference between this number and 1989 USSR census.
Source: Heleniak 1997.

Although since 1997 the Tajik government has expressed a desire for the Russian population to stay, Russians continued to leave. It is estimated that 75 percent of the Russian population decline since 1989 is the result of emigration; moreover, Russians now make up only 1.1 percent of the Tajik population (68,171) compared with 7.6 percent in 1989 (388,480). As a result, the urban population of Tajikistan has shrunk, since Russians made up a quarter of the urban population.

Turkic-speaking Central Asians also fled the country during the Tajik civil war, and many have not returned (see Table 4). The bottom estimate for the net emigration of these groups can be derived from the size of the refugee populations in the various countries these groups consider ethnic homelands. For many years, these refugees caused tensions in the region, as other poor Central Asian countries felt they could not cope with them. However, the situation has improved significantly over the last five years.


Table 4. Refugees and Asylum Seekers from Tajikistan, 1996 to 2005
  1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004^ 2005^
Uzbekistan 13 17 9 ** 30,001 30,000 30,000 39,202 39,202 39,202
Turkmenistan 12,170 10,000 13,501 17,002 12,659 12,383 12,272 12,142 12,085 12,085
Kyrgyzstan 16,436 15,114 13,992 10,141 9,805 8,367 6,828 4,929 ** **
Kazakhstan 6,000 440 5,637 5,355 4,982 4,105 3,477 1,454 ** **
Russian Federation 54,031 50,192 22,952 12,299 2,061 759 698 593 ** **
Other 18,853 115 258 370 432 494 790 616 ** **
Total 107,503 75,878 56,349 45,167 59,940 56,108 54,065 58,936 ** **
^Populations under 5,000 not recorded
Source: 2003 UNHCR Statistical Yearbok: Tajikistan Fact Sheet, 2004 Statistical Yearbook, 2005 UNHCR provisional data

Approximately, 20,000 refugees fled to Kyrgyzstan from Tajikistan, and there were over 15,000 registered refugees in Kyrgyzstan in 1996. While more than 7,000 of these refugees, including most of the ethnic Tajiks, have returned to Tajikistan, approximately 9,000 of them, almost all ethnic Kyrgyz, have expressed no desire to return.

Local integration of this refugee population was facilitated by a bilateral agreement between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan that allows Tajik citizens to renounce their citizenship and become Kyrgyz citizens. By 2003, 5,000 ethnic Kyrgyz Tajiks had already obtained Kyrgyz citizenship; another 1,000 did so in 2004. It is expected that the remaining refugees from Tajikistan in Kyrgyzstan will also naturalize in the near future.

Approximately 10,000 Tajiks, predominantly ethnic Turkmen, fled to Turkmenistan in the 1990s. UNHCR reported that in 2005, Turkmenistan President Saparmurat Niyazov granted citizenship to all refugees resident since 1999. These communities, which have been granted land by the Turkmen authorities around the capital Ashgabat, have integrated well into Turkmenistan and were deemed to have a positive economic effect on local communities.

Uzbek Tajiks are the hardest refugee group to track. There are approximately 39,200 refugees, predominantly ethnic-Uzbek Tajiks, in Uzbekistan, who until 2006 were registered by a "gentleman’s agreement" with UNHCR (Uzbekistan is not party to the UN's 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees or the 1967 Protocol), until UNHCR was forced to leave the country. This number certainly does not measure the total outflow of Uzbek Tajiks into Uzbekistan. Moreover, it is hard to determine from the 2000 census how many Uzbeks have left Tajikistan, as it is thought that many of those who were registered as Uzbeks during the 1989 census have registered under ethnic groups not provided for by the 1989 Soviet census. These include such tribal groupings as the Lakaies or Kongrats. The Uzbek Tajiks may also have reclassified themselves as ethnic Arabs or Tajiks.

Most other smaller, nonindigenous groups also left Tajikistan. Ethnic Germans availed themselves of Germany’s laws that allowed ethnic Germans to move to Germany, and only 1,136 remained in the country according to the 2000 census. From 1989 through 2006, 10,890 Jews immigrated to Israel, and, according to the 2000 Tajik census, only 197 Jews remain. Tatars also left Tajikistan en masse, with those who were Crimean primarily returning to their ancestral homeland in the Crimean region of the Ukraine; non-Crimean Tatars went to Russia, some to the Tatar Republic along the Volga.
Ethnic Tajik Labor Emigration

Although not captured in official census statistics, Tajikistan may be the largest emigrant labor supplier per capita in the world. The best estimates indicate that approximately 600,000 Tajiks, or 18 percent of the adult population, leave the country every year to seek seasonal work or to work abroad for a couple of years.

Poverty, instability, and high birth rates are strong push factors that have led many Tajiks to migrate, while economic growth, comparatively high wages, ease of migration, and labor shortages have pulled Tajiks toward Russia. Russia is experiencing sustained economic growth and demographic contraction. In recent years, the number of deaths in Russia has exceeded the number of births by between 800,000 and 900,000 people per year. Hence, Tajiks fill a demand for labor, particularly in unskilled sectors of the economy.

Approximately 80 percent of all Tajik labor migrants move to the Russian Federation although a small number of Tajiks also work in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. Tajiks generally remain in the former Soviet Central Asia or Russia because of well-developed migrant networks, their ability to speak Russian, and because they cannot meet the visa requirements for most other countries.

Despite their large presence, the number of Tajiks in Russia is difficult to estimate. Russian migration statistics do not capture all temporary and undocumented migration movements. Additionally, Tajikistan is a member of the Eurasian Economic Community (EEC), and Tajik citizens do not require a visa to visit Russia for 90 days.

Tajiks are technically required to register with Russian authorities and obtain a work permit. However, since registering often requires insurmountable bureaucratic hurdles, it is estimated that no less than 80 to 90 percent of temporary labor migrants purchase a counterfeit registration or simply do not register and therefore do not appear in Russian statistics. Even fewer Tajiks obtain work permits. Indeed, according to the Moscow-based Institute for Sociopolitical Studies, there are approximately nine illegal migrants for each legal labor migrant in the country.

These itinerant laborers generally work in Russia from the spring to the fall, often in construction or in open-air markets, and return to Tajikistan in the winter. Many stay for several years at a time in Russia. Some Tajiks, known as "shuttle" migrants, go abroad for short periods of time, specifically to buy goods and resell them in Tajikistan.

The largest numbers of labor migrants come from Tajikistan's mountainous regions, but estimates show that between 17 and 30 percent of the working-age population of any given Tajik district is a labor migrant in another country. From survey research done in Tajikistan, it appears that those from midaltitude regions emigrate seasonally while those from high-altitude regions tend to stay abroad longer and are more likely to emigrate permanently. In general, however, surveys show that most Tajiks (83 percent) are only interested in going abroad for short-term employment.

The Tajik government's Ministry of Labor's external relations department is responsible for organizing the export of labor. The government knows it needs to work with Russia to regularize the status of Tajik workers and ensure their protection abroad. There is talk of Russia simplifying the registration process for Tajiks, but it is unknown if and when this will occur.

Although the majority of labor migrants do not stay permanently, there is a substantial ethnic-Tajik immigrant community in Russia. The Ministry of the Interior of the Russian Federation estimates 160,000 Tajiks are long-term migrants in Russia. Even this number is not certain, as the 2002 Russian census shows 383,057 persons born in Tajikistan who are resident in Russia. Since the Russian census does not track the nationality of these people, it is likely that the majority of those born in Tajikistan are, in fact, ethnic Russians. The long-term ethnic Tajik migrants are concentrated mainly in Moscow and St. Petersburg but also in Samara and Volgograd.

Both long- and short-term migrants face discrimination and uncertain visa status. Because most Tajiks lack legal status, police regularly force them to pay bribes. While the Russian Duma passed a law in December 2005 to try to improve the conditions of Central Asian migrants, their situation has recently deteriorated. Furthermore, official data from Russia's penitentiary system show that there are 4,700 imprisoned Tajiks, many of whom, it is claimed, are unjustly imprisoned.

Remittances

According to a report by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), depending on assumptions, remittances to Tajikistan now stand between U.S.$400 million and U.S.$1 billion annually, or between 20 and 50 percent of Tajikistan’s total GDP; almost all this money is remitted from Russia. Tajikistan may be more reliant on remittances that any other country in the world. For instance, according to 2005 data from the Inter-American Development Bank, Tajikistan is as reliant or more reliant on remittances than some countries in the Americas, including Honduras (21.2 percent of GDP, U.S.$1.8 billion), Haiti (20.7 percent, U.S.$1.1 billion), and El Salvador (17.1 percent, U.S.$2.8 billion).

Like many other developing countries, remittance money is generally used to fulfill daily needs, as many Tajik labor migrants relatives extend far beyond the nuclear family. According to a 2003 study by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), a quarter of migrants could only afford to provide the bare necessities for their families. Another percentage of remitted money often goes toward paying for large events such as weddings. Many migrants, however, bought property or a car with remitted money. Some (10 percent) invested in their children's education, and another sizable group (16 percent) saved funds to start a private business. Furthermore, many claimed they gained business experience, and some purchased items that could increase their knowledge such as computers (1.4 percent).

Recognizing the importance of remittances, in 2001 the Tajik government removed the 30 percent tax on bank remittances. As a result, the amount of money remitted through formal channels has increased.

In addition, the government has been working with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and IOM to better optimize the use of remittances. Since 2004, UNDP has funded a project entitled "Enhancing the Development Impact of Migration Remittances and Assistance to the Reintegration of Labor Migrants through Micro-Finance Initiatives in Rural Areas." UNDP and IOM have also worked to create a program that matches migrant’s donations with international funds to carry out small-scale infrastructure projects.

Afghan Refugees and Transit Migrants in Tajikistan

As UNHCR data show, throughout the 1990s, several thousand Afghans sought refuge in Tajikistan under Tajikistan's original refugee law, which was passed in 1994. This law recognized the 1951 Geneva Convention and 1967 Protocol, and provided for the State Migration Services to process asylum applications. During this time, however, very few Afghans made it into Tajikistan, and those who did were often affiliated with the discredited communist regime of Najibullah, the former Afghan communist ruler.

In 2000, the fighting between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance intensified, and the Taliban captured more Northern Alliance territory in the Kunduz Province of Afghanistan. Taliban territorial gains displaced approximately 100,000 Afghans, many of whom fled toward the mountainous Tajik province of GBAO.

A group of 10,000 of these Afghans attempted to cross the Pyandzh River, but Tajik authorities refused them entry through a section of the border guarded by Russian military forces, who patrolled the area because of regional instability. In a well-documented case, these 10,000 Afghans were stranded on two sand bars in the Pyandzh River between landmines and electrified fencing on the Tajik side and the Taliban on the Afghan side.

To make matters worse, the Pyandzh River, determined to be the border in 1895, continually changes course, and the territorial status of the sand bars on which the Afghans were located was contested. Therefore, different states and multilateral entities argued over whether those stranded were, by law, refugees or IDPS, and debated whose responsibility it was to provide for them.

Even though UNHCR put substantial pressure on Tajikistan, the Tajik authorities refused to let the Afghans enter. The Afghans remained on the sand bars, where they were provided emergency aid by a host of organizations and occasionally shelled by the Taliban. As a result of the post-September 11 military victory of the United States in Afghanistan, the Tajik government, the Russian border forces, and the international aid community worked together to repatriate this group. According to one scholar, from a technical perspective, the return program was carried out successfully, although many complained that the process occurred much too quickly.

While the security situation has stabilized since the imposition of a democratic regime in Afghanistan, refugee law and policy have deteriorated in Tajikistan. A new law passed in 2002, which replaces the 1994 law, does not comply with the 1951 UN Convention. Most notably, the law does not allow for the free movement of refugees within a country. In addition, UNHCR has also documented the refoulement of several Afghans with refugee status to Afghanistan.

UNHCR provisional data for 2005 show that 1,018 registered refugees were in Tajikistan, almost all of whom were Afghan (see Table 5). While no data were published for Tajikistan in 2004, it was estimated there were approximately 2,500 refugees that year. According to UNHCR, 1,500 of these refugees were planned to be permanently resettled mainly in Canada (1,250 refugees) and the United States (250) by early 2006. By the end of 2005, 720 had been permanently resettled.

UNHCR would like the remaining Afghan refugees to be integrated locally. These refugees tend to be better educated and their claim to refugee status more clear than those of Afghans in camps in Iran or Pakistan. Moreover, a substantial number of them were in some way associated with the regime of Najibullah, the communist ruler who lost power in 1992, and who is still despised in Afghanistan, making their return a major risk. However, the Tajik government has not decided whether these refugees will be allowed to stay.


Table 5. Afghan Refugee Population of Tajikistan, 1994 to 2002
  1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002
Afghanistan 695 620 1161 2164 3622 4531 15354^ 15336^ 3427
^Includes those Afghans trapped in the Pyandzh River
Source: UNHCR 2003 Stastical Yearbook. Tajikistan Fact Sheet

Although the number of Afghans seeking refugee status in Tajikistan has dwindled, Tajikistan now serves as one of the main countries of transit for Afghans citizens heading toward other Commonwealth of Independent State (CIS) countries of the former Soviet Union or to Western Europe. These Afghans often enter on a Tajik business invitation issued in Karachi or Islamabad, Pakistan, or they use forged refugee documents to cross the Tajik-Afghan border. According to the Ministry of the Interior of Tajikistan, more than 20,000 unauthorized Afghan migrants are in the country.

Migration Management

Despite the fact that the 2002 "Law on Refugees" is considered to be a step back by most in the human rights community, the Tajik government has improved other migration policies since the 1990s in order to ease labor-related migration. For instance, the Tajik constitution recognized the right to emigrate and repatriate. However, the Migration Law of 1999 required an exit interview to obtain an exit visa, and Tajik citizens could easily be prohibited from leaving the country. The government repealed the exit visa clause of the migration law in August 2002 and also simplified the process for obtaining a passport.

The demand for passports has risen in the last few years because Tajik citizens now must have them to leave the country. Before 2005, members of the EEC could travel with internal passports, a form of national identification left over from Soviet times. Tajiks also require transit visas to travel through Uzbekistan. Inititally, many Tajiks had trouble paying U.S.$30 for a passport, but the virtual impossibility of leaving the country without one has forced Tajiks to cobble together the money. As of 2006, most Tajiks wishing to migrate have obtained passports.

The Tajik government has also worked to improve railway services, the preferred travel method of approximately 500,000 Russian-bound labor migrants annually. Because of the complicated borders in the region, until recently Tajik train passengers had to cross in and out of Uzbekistan four times and Turkmenistan three times, significantly lengthening the journey because of border checks. A new route that begins in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, avoids Turkmenistan completely and only requires one entrance/exit through Uzbekistan. The Tajik rail company also upgraded its trains after Russia temporarily barred Tajik trains because of their unsanitary conditions.

Many observers agree that Tajikistan still needs to do more to manage its large labor outflows and remittance inflows if it wants to use migration to reduce poverty.

The international community is also active in helping Tajikistan manage migration. IOM opened an information resource center in Dushanbe in 2004 to provide prospective labor migrants with a wide range of information on the legal, social, and financial aspects of migration. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has funded a website (in Russian and Tajik) to tell Tajiks about important migration-related information such as visa requirements and how to deal with Russian police and border officials. The website, which provides hotline numbers to call if migrants run into trouble, is also a resource for NGOs supporting Tajik migrants.

IOM has expanded its work in Tajikistan to deal with human trafficking, an area of growing concern to the government. The U.S. State Department commended Tajikistan for passing its "Law on Combating Trafficking in Persons" in 2004 and for creating a police unit and a commission specifically dedicated to the problem.

In terms of border management, in 2004 Tajikistan opened its border with Xinjiang Autonomous region of China, and it is hoped that this trade route will increase development, particularly in the remote GBAO region. The authorities have also decreased the size of the border region requiring special travel permits from 50 to 25 kilometers.

The Afghan border, however, remains problematic because of Afghanistan’s instability, drug trafficking, and human smuggling. Although large numbers of Russian troops still guard this border, the majority are due to leave in December 2006. There have been concerns about Tajikistan's ability to control the border, particularly given the lack of equipment and corruption within the Tajik border forces.

Conclusion

In its short history as an independent country, Tajikistan has seen many forms of migration. The country's experience with internal displacement and refugee movements can be instructive for policymakers and government officials alike.

With the issue of refugee migration mostly under control, labor export policy is Tajikistan's main concern, and how the country deals with labor migration and remittances will affect its development and will prove key to its success as an independent nation.

Sources

Atabaki, Touraj and Sanjyot Mehendale, eds. 2005. Central Asia and the Caucasus: Transnationalism and Diaspora. Routledge: New York.

Blua, Antoine. 2005. "Tajikistan: Labor Migrants Concerned About New Passport Requirements." RFE/RL, January 11. Available online.

Druke, Luise. 2000. "Housing and Propery Restitution for Returnees in Tajikistan in the 1990s." Refugee Survey Quarterly 19(3): 113-139

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