Tajikistan: Migration as a New Security Threat in Tajikistan. By Dilnoza Rakhmatboeva.

Dilnoza Rakhmatboeva, MA in Politics and Security, OSCE Academy, Kyrgyzstan.

“A simple way to take measure of a country is to look at how many want in…and how many want out.”
Tony Blair

Brutal civil war in Tajikistan forced hundreds thousands to emigrate during 1992-1997. Meanwhile, external migration in other four Central Asian countries, did not reach such levels, as they remained stable in terms of various security indicators. Migration is a complex and multilayered phenomenon, therefore it spills over to many fields such as economic, ethnic, demographic, social and both human and state security. Thus, migration is not only relocation for better work and life opportunities, as one might perceive it. As a topic of research on Tajikistan, migration processes remain very popular, due to their influence on political, social and economic life of Tajikistan. Nevertheless there is a lack of systematic studies by national and international researchers.

In the case of Tajikistan, employment opportunities have been limited, therefore most of the labour migrants choose Russian Federation, a more successful regional economy, as a country of destination. In the Russian/host community, there are many articles, TV shows, news portals and social media posts concerning threats of labour migrants, who come and “take jobs” intended to the national labour force, while the “sending” country, Tajikistan, is less concerned about the impacts on its domestic security. Uncontrolled migration threatens Tajikistan’s economic and political security, therefore it needs responsiveness from all the state institutions, in order to monitor and prevent possible instability within the country.

The concept of security is defined as the “resistance to” or “protection from”. Although the definition remains the same, categorization of security became wider: IT realm (internet/application/data), physical realm (food/home/body), monetary (economic and social) and political realm (national/public/state/international/human)[i]. Hence, this paper considers the relation of migration to different aspects of domestic and regional security.

Political Security. The migration process has the potential to alter social, economic, cultural and political fabric of a country significantly. Therefore, its causes and effects must prompt an adequate institutional response. In the case of Tajikistan, the Ministry of Labour, Migration and Unemployment is the only institution tasked to respond to all the issues related to the migration process (enforcing legislation, developing national strategies, implementing projects). However, one Ministry alone is not able to tackle all the migration-related issues, especially security related[ii]. According to the Russian Federal Migration Services, Tajikistan has sent around one million migrants to Russia as of June 2015.[iii] In turn, according to Tajikistan’s National Bank, the country has received a total of 289 million USD in the first quarter of 2015[iv] as part of remittances from the migrant workforce. Since Tajikistan is a “sender” country, the government should predetermine itself as such and develop a comprehensive migration strategy not only bound to managing remittances, but also working on human and labor rights, education and relations with the diaspora. Furthermore, the government must take into consideration the crucial implication that migration has on state security[v] and develop an inter-ministerial approach to addressing the issue.

Migration is for many in Tajikistan a survival strategy amid high unemployment and low living standards. Yet, migrants do not always find good life in a hosting country. Forced labor, sex trafficking, organ trafficking, slavery are some of the negative consequences migrants can face, but of which many are not aware. Generally, migrants of Tajikistan have only the economical perspective in sight, travelling without prior arrangements and knowledge of the receiving society and not being aware of their rights. Therefore, state agencies should cooperate to take prevention measures to protect migrants before their departure from Tajikistan. In order to avoid cases of Tajik citizens being mistreated abroad, the Tajik government needs to raise awareness on the rights and responsibilities granted to workers abroad and to control the migration flow in accordance with state and societal interests (i.e. address irregular and black market labour).  The government of Tajikistan needs to increase the inter-ministerial efforts in an attempt to address the implications of the labor migration of approximately half of the able national workforce, which means to help the Ministry of Labour, Migration and Unemployment of Population engage with other ministries, such as Ministry of Economic Development and Trade, Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Foreign Affairs[vi].

There is also a very high probability that some migrants are recruited for extremist and terrorist activities in exchange for ideological or monetary compensation. As Russian journalist Daniil Turovsky[vii] stated in his article on ISIS recruitment of labor migrants, around 4000 Central Asian migrants who worked in the Russian Federation have travelled to Syria. Taking into consideration the harsh conditions faced in the receiving society, Islamic recruiters lure labor migrants in Russia by promising them “money and freedom”, instead of living like “slaves”. Respondents told Turovsky that recruiters would explain “there is a caliphate and there is no need to fight”.  Labor migrants tend to be easily recruited due to the limited earnings made abroad. Meanwhile, ISIS recruiters promise good incomes in return for simply joining and travelling to the ISIS-controlled territories.

In the January 2015 Policy Briefing, the International Crisis Group stated that there are between 2000-4000 Tajiks who travelled to Syria[viii]. While the number may not seem alarming, it can nevertheless have a wide-ranged of implications for the security of Tajikistan. On one hand, Tajik citizens who join ISIS may recruit other fellow citizens and may bring family members to ISIS-controlled territories. Secondly, a number of Tajik ISIS members tend to decide to return to Tajikistan when they feel that they have been deceived by ISIS promises, therefore prompting a response from state institutions in assisting them to return. The Tajik government promised to amnesty[ix] all nationals who return from ISIS-controlled territories and to assist them in travelling to Tajikistan. Thirdly, and more importantly, there are Tajik nationals who are ISIS members and may return to their homeland to carry out terrorist acts. Therefore, recruitment, islamization of the population and return of former ISIS members to Tajikistan require a comprehensive approach from the state institutions, as these are the effects of the migration process.

Economic Security. A large number of men leaving Tajikistan for better opportunities creates “missing men” phenomena[x] in Tajikistan, leaving thousands of families without fathers, brothers, husbands and sons. This has a negative impact on the remaining able workforce in Tajikistan, on the upbringing of children (and implications of potential divorces) or on women’s economic empowerment and household duties. Nevertheless, there is no response prepared by the Tajik government in case the massive waves of migrants decide to return to Tajikistan due to restrictions on the labor market imposed by receiving societies. According to new Russian law, starting from January 1, 2015- citizens of Tajikistan cannot longer enter Russian Federation without international passports. Another regulation in order to obtain the work permit, additional to mandatory Russian language test, labor migrants have to pass a Russian history and civics exam[xi]. New regulations introduced by Russian Federation made it harder for labor migrants from Tajikistan to travel and work.  Tajikistan and its migrants depend on Russia as on having potential effects on sending migrants back: volatile situation in Russian economy, fluctuating national currency, low petrol prices and sanctions imposed by Western countries due to the conflict in Ukraine. In turn, this can lead to sudden increases of unemployment rates (currently its 11 percent[xii]), therefore affecting inflation and other macroeconomic factors, or can lead to surges of illegal activities in Tajikistan, since many turn to criminal acts to cover for the lack of income.

Among all the former Soviet states, Tajikistan has the lowest GDP per capita and the state’s economy depends on remittances sent from Russia. In 2012, the World Bank stated that around 47 percent of the country’s GDP comes from remittances, which makes Tajikistan “the most remittance-dependent country in the world”[xiii]. Labor migrants cannot be prevented from leaving the country, if the current economic perspectives in their homeland seem bleak. Their contribution to the Tajik economy through remittances is a major lifeline of the Tajik economy, covering 42.7% of the GDP in 2014, and 90% of them coming from the Russian Federation[xiv]. In the last World Bank’s 2015 Economic Update on Tajikistan, economic growth is projected to slow to 3.2 percent in 2015, whereas the remittances drop is not a short-term problem[xv], yet can shake Tajik economy for several years. However, remittances are not a stable source of development and state security as it has no positive effect on state institutions and is reliant upon the acceptance of the receiving societies.

Migration also leads to a brain-drain, when qualified people leave their homeland searching for better jobs. Brain drain in Tajikistan started long before the state got its independence. In particular, during  the times of free movement of labour in the Soviet Union[xvi]. Heritage, language, absence of visa regime, departure of skilled people caused substantial harm and affects economic stability of Tajikistan. Highly educated and skilled workers choose to leave for abroad rather than work in Tajikistan due to better working environments and higher incomes. Moreover, the overwhelming majority of Tajik migrants are travelling to the Russian Federation, bearing in mind the Soviet past of Tajikistan that created cultural and linguistic bridges between the two countries.


The system of migration management should pay particular attention to the problems of planning and forecasting, as they are the elements of the system of social stability. This policy has to involve the analysis and definitions of its basic objectives, taking into account the traditions, historical background and national features of the republic.[xvii]

The nature and implications of labor migration in Tajikistan over the years show a complete lack of control and chaotic migration. At the time, with the transition to a market economy, the government can no longer operate with the old methods of control, once used during Soviet Union, while new mechanisms are not invented yet.[xviii]

The migration policy of Tajikistan has dynamically changed and developed, starting from the free-travel in the Soviet Union to the inter-state and ministerial approach, which is in place today. Nevertheless, there is no mechanism of implementation, which could make this policy work efficiently in practice. The Government of Tajikistan must develop a more proactive response towards safeguarding the rights of its nationals abroad and preparing them before their departure (documentation, arrangements), rather than being mainly focused on remittances brought by labor migrants. Currently, state institutions appear to have low capacity to respond to the migration process.

Remittances bring improvements to the local communities through cash influxes (in construction, auto or real estate industries) or cultural exchanges (by bringing different cultural values from the Russian Federation and challenging the potential status-quo or conservative principles of the Tajik society). Most importantly, they relieve the pressure from the national job market and decrease the unemployment rate, therefore aiding the Tajik economy. Nevertheless, the negative side of labor migration is that the outflow of labor resources slows down domestic development by reducing the size of economically active population and consequently infringing new security threats to the country.

[i] Rothschild, E, Daedalus. “What is Security”. 1995. The Quest for World Order. Vol.124. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/20027310?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents&gt;.

[ii] Ministry of Labour, Migration and Unemployment of Population. <mehnat.tj>.

[iii] The Moscow Times. “Tajik Workers in Russia Send 40% Less Money Home”. 15 Jun 2015. <http://www.themoscowtimes.com/business/article/tajik-workers-in-russia-send-40-less-money-home/523917.html&gt;.

[iv] Salimov, O. “Tajikistan’s Government Misses the Real Problem of Labour Migrants”. 08 Jul 2015. Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst. Bi-weekly Briefing vol.17 no. 13. <http://www.cacianalyst.org/resources/20150708analyst.pdf&gt;.

[v] Rudolph C. “Security and the Political Economy of International Migration”. 2003. The American Political        Science   Review, vol.97. <https://escholarship.org/uc/item/0hd2q0gt#page-3&gt;.

[vi] Ghosh, B. “Managing Migration”. 2000. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

[vii] Turovsky, D. “How ISIS is recruiting migrant workers in Moscow to join the fighting in Syria”. O5 May 2015. The Guardian. < http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/may/05/isis-russia-syria-islamic-extremism&gt;.

[viii] International Crisis Group. Policy Briefing: “Syria Calling: Radicalization in Central Asia”.20 Jan 2015. Europe and Central Asian Briefing no. 72. < http://www.crisisgroup.org/~/media/Files/asia/central-asia/b072-syria-calling-radicalisation-in-central-asia.pdf >.

[ix] Lemon, E. “Tajikistan Promises Amnesty for Returning Jihadis”. 12 May 2015. <http://www.eurasianet.org/node/73391&gt;.

[x] Al Jazeera. “Tajikistan’s missing men”. 02 Aug 2013.  <http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/101east/2013/07/201372393525174524.html&gt;.

[xi] Daly, J. “Russia’s New Passport Regulations Impose Additional Hardships on Tajik Migrant Worker”. 26 Nov 2014 . Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume 11. <http://www.jamestown.org/programs/edm/single/?tx_ttnews%5Btt_news%5D=43128&cHash=65a1c85f97ccce4a2bacf4c0786f478e#.VgjuZdRBuig&gt;.

[xii] International Labour Organization. “World Employement and Social Outlook. Trends 2015”. <http://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/—dgreports/—dcomm/—publ/documents/publication/wcms_337069.pdf&gt;.

[xiii]World Bank. Press release “Developing countries to receive over $400 billion in remittances in 2012, says World Bank report”. 20 Nov 2012. <http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/press-release/2012/11/20/developing-countries-to-receive-over-400-billion-remittances-2012-world-bank-report&gt;.

[xiv] World Bank. “Tajikistan: Slowing Growth, Rising Uncertainties”. 2015. Bannual Economic Update no.1 <http://www.worldbank.org/content/dam/Worldbank/Publications/ECA/centralasia/Tajikistan-Economic-Update-Spring-2015-en.pdf&gt;.

[xv] Putz, C. The Diplomat. “Tough Times Ahead in Tajikistan”. 27 May 2015. < <http://thediplomat.com/2015/05/tough-times-ahead-in-tajikistan/&gt;.

[xvi] Rahmonova-Schwarz, D. “Migrations during the Soviet Period and in the Early Years of USSR’s Dissolution: A Focus on Central Asia”. 2010. Revue Europeenne des Migrations Internationales. Vol.26. <http://remi.revues.org/5196?lang=en&gt;.

[xvii] Guild, E. “Security and Migration in the 21st Century”. 2009. Cambridge: Polity Press. <http://ijrl.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2012/02/02/ijrl.ees003&gt;.

[xviii] Jones, L. et al. “Migration and Poverty Reduction in Tajikistan”. 2007. The Development Research Centre on Migration, Globalization and Poverty. <http://www.migrationdrc.org/publications/working_papers/WP-C11.pdf&gt;.