In collaboration with the al-Farabi Carnegie Program on Central Asia, Saodat Olimova and Muzaffar Olimov of the SHARQ Research Center in Dushanbe held a two-day seminar examining the impact of the global economic crisis and climate change on migration flows in Central Asia, with a particular focus on Tajikistan. 

Tajik Labor Migration

  • Overview: Olimova described the Tajik labor migrants as generally between 18 and 45 years old, with an average age of 24. The majority are males, although the number of female migrants is also growing. Because of the physically demanding nature of their work in fields like construction and the often poor living conditions, few Tajik migrants continue working past the age of 50.  

  • Reliance on Labor Migration: Of the five countries in Central Asia, Tajikistan is the most heavily reliant on labor migration as a source of employment and remittances—up to 1.2 million of its 7.5 million people works abroad, Olimova said. The remittances these migrants send back amount to an estimated 52 percent of the country’s GDP, making Tajikistan an interesting case study of the effects of the global economic crisis on labor migration. Olimova added that quantifying labor migration can be difficult due to the illegal status of many migrant workers. 

  • Dependence on Russia: Tajikistan’s migration is also the least diversified in the region, with an overwhelming majority of its workers seeking employment opportunities in Russia, Olimova explained. 

Impact of the Financial Crisis 

  • Employment and the Financial Crisis: The 2008-2009 economic crisis affected many industries that employ migrant workers, including the service industry, tourism, financial services, and especially the construction sector, which in Russia employs many Tajik workers, Olimova explained. Late 2008 and early 2009 saw a drop in migration flows, as migrants returned home, but up to a third of workers remained to wait out the crisis in the host country, borrowing money for living expenses until they could find new employment. As workers lost jobs, money transfers to Central Asia fell.   

  • Cyclical Flow: The pattern of labor migration demonstrated the wave-like nature of the crisis, Olimova said. When the crisis hit Russia, many migrants returned home to Tajikistan. As the crisis emerged in Tajikistan, deteriorating economic conditions in the country prompted more labor migration to Russia, particularly among younger Tajiks. By the end of 2009, the average age of Tajik labor migrants fell by an estimated 2.5 years. 

  • Increasing Restrictions: In Russia, the financial crisis contributed to growing resentment and xenophobic attacks on Central Asian labor migrants and more restrictive migration policies, Olimova added. 

Environmental Migration and Displacement 

Not all Tajik migration is driven solely by economic considerations, Olimova explained. Some migrants leave home because of environmental factors, which tend to exacerbate existing poor economic conditions. 
  • Displacement by Natural Disasters: Some migrants are displaced by natural disasters like floods and landslides, which are becoming increasingly frequent in the country due to climate change. 

  • Environmental deterioration: Others leave to escape slower-onset conditions like water shortages, desertification, and soil depletion. Without sustainable land and water use and effective disaster management, Tajikistan will face a growing environmental migration problem in the coming decades, Olimova concluded.