Twenty-five Years of the CIS and the Migration of Millions in the Region

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When the Commonwealth of Independent States was created on the ruins of the former Soviet Union in December 1991, it was hard to guess that one of the most visible results of this historic upheaval would be the migration of millions of citizens of Commonwealth countries and that the republics of Central Asia and the South Caucasus, Ukraine, Moldova, and Belarus would fall headlong into poverty that would force their citizens to leave in large numbers in search of jobs in resource-rich Russia and Kazakhstan.

Twenty-five years later, ADC Memorial is releasing its human rights report “The Rights of Migrant Workers from Former Soviet Countries: Real-World Problems and Unfulfilled Obligations” to mark International Migrants Day on 18 December 2016.

Over the past two decades, labor migration has become a regular way of life for millions of people. The catalysts of this migration are the economic crisis, strict political regimes in some countries, and enormous stakes in income from labor migration on all sides in both donor and recipient countries.

The approach to labor migration in the region remains restrictive in spite of the general interest and expediency of using migrant labor and the freedom of movement and employment that has been declared in a number of government agreements (for EAEU countries, for example). National laws and bilateral agreements between former Soviet countries consider only people who are “legally located” in their country of employment to be migrant workers, while migrants who have committed minor infractions of migration rules and lost their “regulated status” face harsh repressions, expulsion, and blacklisting.

Some countries’ views of labor migration as a leading, if not the main, branch of the national economy has led to stagnation in manufacturing and agricultural production, a lack of desire on the part of the country’s residents to work at home, and, as a result, the inability of countries to reintegrate thousands of migrants returning home from the economic crisis in Russia or migrants who have been blacklisted.

Mass migration in the former Soviet Union is an established phenomenon that is not going to get away. However, the access to Human rights for these migrants must be improved. The migration laws and strategies of countries involved in labor migration must be brought in line with the international obligations of these countries and must include migration norms of international law and guarantees for their implementation.

All CIS countries must ratify the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, the Social Charter of the Council of Europe (and the additional protocol on collective complaints), and the ILO Migrant Workers Convention. International organizations (the UN, the Council of Europe, the European Commission, and the European Parliament) must closely track the problem of the legal status of migrant workers and their families and compel countries in the CIS, EAEU, and other post-Soviet unions to implement the norms of international law relating to people in migration.

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