Protecting the Rights of Migrants and their Families
Protecting Central Asian Labor Migrants
Hundreds of thousands of people from Central Asian countries cross borders every year in search of livelihood or to help their families, with many ending up working in Russia. These labor migrants are particularly vulnerable to abuse. They face exploitation, discrimination, and lack of access to health care, pensions or education. They are some of the most vulnerable groups in society. Yet, legislation and institutional protections are largely lacking in either sending or receiving countries.
For example, remittances sent by more than 500,000 migrants now working in Russia make up nearly one-fourth of the Kyrgyz Republic's GDP. In the first half of 2011, Kyrgyz labor migrants sent $685 million USD in remittances back home, or 23% of GDP. Many of these migrants also pay taxes in Russia but receive almost no protection.
The Tian Shan Policy Center is seeking to facilitate research and dialogue on new policies and programs that can ensure greater human rights and social protection for labor migrants working abroad. This includes evaluating the potential for developing unilateral, bilateral and multilateral legislation, considering social protection recommendations made by SRC’s project “Analytical Review: Access of Labor Migrants from Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan in Russia to Pension Accumulation System”, and working with human rights and labor groups, the Diaspora, and government agencies to advocate systematic changes to migrant protection throughout Central Asia and Russia.
Ending the Denial of Social Benefits and Discrimination against Internal Kyrgyz Migrants
For a majority of migrants in Kyrgyzstan, the government’s residence registration program has created discrimination in access to basic services. Many are unable or unwilling to register when they move from villages to cities due to the lack of education, bureaucratic processes that can result in corruption, difficulty in locating required personal documents, and mistrust of government motives. Nearly 80% of internal migrants in Bishkek do not have residence registration as a result and a large number of citizens are denied social benefits such as medical care, housing support, and education for their children, revealing an alarming link between social and territorial segregation of internal migrants and growing poverty.
While there have been attempts by various institutions in the country to address the issues related to residence registration, political instability and lack of real dialogue on the subject have hampered reform. For example, the former Social Research Center (now incorporated into TSPC) succeeded in documenting abuses prior to 2010 and carried-out a pilot test on institutional reform in settlements outside Bishkek. The April 2010 revolution, however, put a halt to further work. More recent structural changes in key decision-making government bodies specialised in migration have further prevented action, e.g. the Ministry of Labour, Migration and Employment was restructured as the Ministry of Youth, Labour and Employment with changes in political appointments and priorities. The Jogorku Kenesh Committee on Migration has been dissolved with no Committee yet established to address the issue of migration.
The Tian Shan Policy Center is resurrecting the earlier activity. Specifically, it will increase awareness about these issues and, with support from partners, undertake research and advocacy of human rights-based solutions to residence registration, with a view of eradicating discrimination against migrants. The TSPC program will analyze the existing legislative restrictions and document problems in accessing social benefits by migrants now living in the new settlements around Bishkek and other urban areas to support work at identifying and promoting key policy reforms.
Understanding the Impact of Migration on Development:
Filling Gaps in Data Analysis on Remittances and Migrant Flows in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan
There is a need to improve the quality and amount of data on migration flows and remittances globally, particularly to help policy makers assess how to improve the benefits of migration for development. One of the most neglected regions in terms of research and analysis is Central Asia. This area, relatively half the size of the United States, is an area unique for studying migration. Research here has the potential to yield tremendous benefits for researchers and policy-makers seeking better understanding of migration flows and how remittances sent back to countries of origin can impact their development.
As reported by the World Bank, of the top 5 countries considering remittances as a share of GDP, two are in Central Asia: Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. Remittances represented 35% of Tajikistan’s GDP in 2009, placing it first among all other countries. According to the January 2012 report from the National Bank of Tajikistan, the figure is now at 45%. Kyrgyzstan is listed in 5th position in 2010 with remittances comprising 21% of its GDP (behind Lesotho, Samoa and Moldova). Most of the more than 190 countries in the world now engage in migration, making this a significant set of findings.
While reports from Russia and Kazakhstan indicate that many migrants move to these countries from the Kyrgyz and Tajik Republics, circular migration flows are still little understood. Global researchers know even less about the impact of migration and remittances on development in countries of origin. Contributing factors to the lack of knowledge include lack of studies, as well as government data that is seen as deeply flawed.
The Tian Shan Policy Center is seeking to produce better information on Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan that has the potential to improve not only regional policy-making but also global understanding. An investment by the MacArthur Foundation in this work could serve as a buttress to the work of the international researchers and institutions that the MacArthur Foundation supports.