Central Asia and Migration: a Look into the Largest Migration Flow in Eurasia [explainer clip]

In today’s world, human migration is a global concern. Migration can be defined as a process of moving from one location to another for economic, socio-demographic, cultural and historical, infrastructural and geographic and political factors. [5] In other words, migration is one of the strategies people use in response to various societal turn of events. In this globalized world, the US, the United Arab Emirates, Canada, and countries of European Union attract people from all over the world who are in search of better life opportunities and/or who are in need of a safe refuge outside of their places of origin due to wars and conflicts.

Russia, the former capital of the Soviet Union attracts millions of people from its ex-Soviet countries, particularly from Central Asian region, which “has more than 10 million migrants on the move”. [4] Thus, the current migration corridor between Russia and Central Asia is considered to be one of the largest in Eurasia. Let us now take a closer look at some of the incentives of labor migration patterns from the three major sending countries of Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. 

Migration in CA is widely seen in a positive light by local societies, as it creates many possibilities, however new vulnerabilities and risks have emerged. [6] The impact of migration is noticed not only on the individuals on the move but also on their families left behind. Despite being one of the important workforces on the Russian labor market, Central Asian labor migrants face hostility and xenophobia in their everyday lives, not merely from local Russians, but also from Russian officials and police officers treating them as uninvited guests. [1] In 2018, at least four people died from racist or other ideologically motivated violence and at least 57 people were injured or beaten. However, it is impossible to know the true number of victims of xenophobic conflicts in Russia, as labor migrants rarely file cases at the police.. [5] Some scholars analyzed anti-immigrant attitudes in Russia by closely looking at individual economic competition as well as at the so-called “group threat theory”; i.e. “Not all immigrants are equally unwelcome. Ukrainians and Moldovans are more acceptable to Russians than immigrants from the Caucasus and Central Asia.”, write the authors. [2]

Gender and ethnicity impact on what jobs a labour migrant can obtain. For example, the kind of job a migrant from Kyrgyzstan can obtain differs to that of an Uzbek passport holder. This has its own influence on the mobility within Central Asian countries itself. 

Despite the fact that migration flow is built on mutual interdependence, it also serves as the foundation for Russia to strengthen its influence in Central Asia by creating a socio-economic and political impact in all involved countries. [8]  From an economical point of view, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan benefit largely from the remittances sent by labor migrants. Remittance flow, as it has been defined by UNDP, has become one of the key drivers of international development. According to the World Bank data report, remittances make up 31.3 percent of GDP for Tajikistan and 32.9 percent for Kyrgyzstan, making them one the most remittance dependent economies. [9]

The proportion of women migrating from Central Asia depends on the country. While gender distribution of migrants from Kyrgyzstan is almost equal, this is not the case for countries such as Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Moreover, women migrating to Russia from Central Asia are not only exposed to the vulnerabilities of being a migrant, such as unequal labor opportunities. They are also victims of gender-based violence and harassment. There have been cases when nationalistically inclined Kyrgyz men attacked Kyrgyz women in Russia for dating men of other ethnicities. [3]  Women are thus targeted by authorities in a host-state as well as by fellow nationals.

When we talk about migration one may ask, – what is the portrait of a migrant? It is difficult to answer, particularly as Central Asian populations are in themselves very diverse. However, the problem arises when whole populations are viewed through the lens of migration. In other words, there is a risk to reduce people to the category of migrant, not taking other aspects of the individual into account, such as their personal circumstances. In the context of Russia, the word migrant can make it seem like migration is a problem created by people migrating to Russia.  While, in fact, the migration policies in place makes it easy for employers to make use of cheap labour from Central Asia, ignoring the hosting-country’s inability to accommodate the large proportion of Central Asian workforce they attract.

Disclaimer. This clip was created with the funds from SIDA and managed through ForumCiv. ForumCiv does not necessarily share the views expressed in this clip.

Written by: Akylbek kyzy Bermet, American University of Central Asia, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan
Aida Akhmedova, board member of Central Asia Solidarity Groups


List of Literature Used:

1. Arman Kaliyev, Central Asian migrants describe injustice, racism in Russia, Caravanserai. Retrieved from:https://central.asia-news.com/en_GB/articles/cnmi_ca/features/2018/07/03/feature-01

2. Bessudnov, Alexey. (2016). “Ethnic Hierarchy and Public Attitudes towards Immigrants in Russia”. European Sociological Review. 32. jcw002. 10.1093/esr/jcw002.

3. Gabdulhakov, Rashid (2019). “In the Bullseye of Vigilantes: Mediated Vulnerabilities of Kyrgyz Labour Migrants in Russia”. Opens external Media and Communication, 7 (2), 230-241. doi: 10.17645/mac.v7i2.1927

4.  ‘Labour Migration from Central Asia to Russia’. 2018. International Organization for Migration. 15 February 2018. https://www.iom.int/photo-stories/labour-migration-central-asia-russia

5. Ryazantsev, Sergey (2019), “Labour migration from Central Asia to Russia in the context of the economic crisis”, #55 Valdai Papers, https://valdaiclub.com/files/11628/

6. Heleniak, Timothy. (2002). “Migration Dilemmas Haunt Post-Soviet Russia”. Migrationpolicy.Org. (1 October 2002). https://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/migration-dilemmas-haunt-post-soviet-russia

7. Tatyana Torcheshnikova, Migrants in Russia, Radio Liberty.Retrieved from: https://www.svoboda.org/a/30330020.html

8. Zulfiya Raissova, Trends in Modern Labor Migration in Central Asia, CABAR. Retrieved from: https://cabar.asia/en/trends-in-modern-labor-migration-in-central-asia/

9. Elior Nematov, Labour Migration from Central Asia to Russia, IOM. Retrieved from:


10. Suyarkulova, Mohira (2016), “Fashioning the nation: gender and politics of dress in contemporary Kyrgyzstan”, Nationalities Papers, 44:2, 247-265