Central Asia : The ordeal of migrant workers and their families

(Bishkek) In Kazakhstan and in Russia, the rights of migrant workers from Central Asia are regularly violated, declared today FIDH and its partners in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, in Bishkek during the presentation of two reports: "Women and children from Kyrgyzstan affected by migration" and "Migrant workers in Kazakhstan: no status, no rights". The two reports denounce not only the sad state of affairs for migrant workers, but also that of their families in Kyrgyzstan – particularly the women and children – who are left behind.

Our organisations urge the authorities of the countries of destination – mainly Russia and Kazakhstan, – and those of the countries of origin – Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan, – to respect their international obligations and ensure that the rights of migrant workers and their families are respected. The death of 17 Kyrgyz migrant workers in a Moscow worksite fire on 27 August 2016 is an urgent reminder of the need to respect those commitments.

The two reports were written following an investigation conducted by our organisations in 2015 and 2016 together with Kyrgyz, Kazakh and Russian civil society groups. The reports’ conclusions and recommendations are based on more than forty interviews with migrants from Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

Find out all the key elements of our 2 reports in one infographic.

In Kazakhstan, most migrants, who are mainly from Central Asia, do not have legal documents and work without permits or contracts. This situation makes them more vulnerable, lead to poor working and living conditions, and limit their access to healthcare, justice, and education for their children.

The report denounces practices that contribute to the exploitation of workers, especially the confiscation of passports by employers which restricts migrants’ freedom of movement and prevents them from quitting their job despite the abusive working conditions, (salary decrease or no salary at all etc). Migrant workers are also often victim of human trafficking for the purpose of forced labour or sexual exploitation. Youzma, of Uzbek nationality, recounts: "A woman approached me in a market in Tashkent. She promised me a job as a waitress in Shymkent with a good salary. […] I was forced into prostitution [in Kazakhstan]. I was lucky if I got four hours of sleep a day, they hardly gave me any food and I was forced to "work" non-stop […]..

Our organisations conducted further investigations in Kyrgyzstan into the discrimination experienced by women and children who are affected by migration, whether they leave or stay behind when their partners/parents migrate. Those who emigrate have to live in crowded and dirty lodging, and have only limited access to health services (including sexual and reproductive health) and education. Women are especially vulnerable to abusive work conditions. Many of those from Central Asia are also targets of racist and xenophobic actions left totally unpunished, particularly in Russia: "I work from 10 in the morning until 10 at night. My husband comes to get me every night because I am afraid to go home alone. It is very dangerous for the Kyrgyz. Once, in the subway I saw three Russians beat a Kyrgyz, shouting ‘you’re a Muslim’. No one said anything", said sadly Anora from the province of Chuy (north Kyrgyzstan). The report also denounces the social phenomenon of the so-called “Patriots” in Russia, where Kyrgyz men carry out assaults on Kyrgyz women because they think their life style is too loose, and even ‘immoral’.

Our organisations also documented violations inflicted upon women and children who remained in Kyrgyzstan while their loved ones emigrated. Since they have to depend on their in-laws, Kyrgyz women are often deprived of resources, and are victim of violence and exploitation. The phenomenon of migration also contributes to the increase of practices that violate women’s rights. In order to find someone to look after their parents while they are away, some men kidnap women to get married before they leave. Many men who are already married in Kyrgyzstan, marry a second time in their country of work. In case of divorce, – or outright repudiation if the marriage was only performed in a religious ceremony; the in-laws kick out the women penniless into the street. Many children who have been sent to relatives, neighbours, and even orphanages are psychologically, physically and sexually abused, and, further, have limited access to education.

We call on authorities in the countries of origin, – Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan, – to offer migrants assistance that is adapted to their needs, particularly in regards to their gender, by way of their consular network. They should also guarantee the rights of those who are left behind in Kyrgyzstan, whose vulnerability is exacerbated by the migration phenomenon", declared Tolekan Ismaylova, FIDH Vice President and President of the human rights movement "Bir Duino – Kyrgyzstan", an FIDH member organisation in Kyrgyzstan.

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