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Tajik Migrants in Russia: Life Is a Queue and Then You Die

Public sentiment in Russia is against Central Asian migrants. Demotix ID: 3139485 Photo by Nickolay Vinokurov.

Public sentiment in Russia is often hostile towards migrants from Central Asia and the Caucasus. Demotix ID: 3139485. Photo by Nickolay Vinokurov.

Millions of Central Asian labor migrants leave their home countries for Russia every year. In Tajikistan — the most remittance-dependent country in the world — the payments they send back equate to almost half of GDP.

Whilst official employment numbers grow annually, most of Tajikistan's industries remain inactive and half of Tajikistan's working-age males seek jobs in Russia. Russia's economic crisis and its pedantic migration bureaucracy littered with corruption opportunities have made it harsher for migrants to keep afloat and provide for children and elderly parents.

Given this context, it is unsurprising that the story of a 48-year-old Tajik migrant dying in the early hours of April 6 shortly after completing the arduous process of obtaining a work permit at a migration center just outside Moscow has resonated deeply with social media users in the country.

 After submitting documents and fingerprints for work permission, Komiljon Esanov and his 18-year-old son Murod decided to spend a night in a special room for migrants at the center and go back to Moscow the following day.

But Esanov grew ill in the room and died waiting for an ambulance to arrive.

While the cause of his death has not yet been identified or reported by the Russian media, Karimjon Yorov, the head of the Tajik community in Russia, said that the hours Esanov — father to three sons and a daughter — spent queuing to submit documents undoubtedly contributed:

Эсанов вақте бисёр дар берун меистад ва якбора ба гармӣ медарояд, дилаш қувват накарда, ҷон медиҳад.

Esanov stayed too long in the queue outside  [in the cold] and suddenly entered a warm place. His heart failed and he died.

Esanov's fellow villagers told RFE/RL's Tajik service, Ozodi, that they are collecting money in order to repatriate his body to Panjakent, a city in northern Tajikistan.

They claimed that they have had to pay almost $400 for the services of the Botkin morgue in Moscow, where the body was transferred from the migration center. According to Tajik legislation, if the deceased citizen has no relatives and friends in Russia ready to take on the costs of transporting the body back to his or her homeland, Tajikistan's state airlines can provide free transport. This leaves only the shipping costs from the morgue to the airport, customs clearance and coffin costs to be paid for by the family. 

In a strongly worded Facebook post, Izzat Amon, a Tajik migrants’ rights activist in Moscow, compared the cruelty of Russian migration centers to the Holocaust.

He criticized the Tajik government for persecuting Muslims at home instead of looking after migrants abroad: 

Хукумати Тоҷикистон бошад хамаш думболи ришу эзори занхои мардум. Эй кош шумо нисбати мушкилоти мардум хамон тавре харис мебудед ки бо риш мубориза мебаред.

The Government of Tajikistan spends a lot of time scrutinising men's beards and their wives’ clothes [referring to Hijab]. I wish you were as active in dealing with people's problems as you are in fighting against beards. 

Readers of Ozodi also assailed Russia's migration service.

Gharib, a reader of the service wrote

ман чанд маротиба шуд меравам ба ин фмс дар он чо одамонро ба мисли рамаи гусфанд мешуморанд ин муомилаи нави русхо мебошад мо точикони хору зор дар рох ба суйи сархад дар скучаю бозор истгоху чангалхо ва дар сохмонхою дигар чойхойи ифлос аз дуне чашм мепушем уффффф сохиб надорем мо..

I have witnessed how the Federal Migration Service treats people as a flock of sheep. This is the new behavior of Russians. We poor, desperate Tajiks die on the way to state borders, in the streets and bazaars, on building sites and other dirty places. Alas, no-one takes care of us.

Whilst the authorities of the Moscow migration services did not allow people to take pictures of the scene, some Tajiks called on their countrymen to record the chaos at Russian migration centers.

 Эй точикони баномуси Маскав ин шармандабозорро ба навор гирифта ба расонахои ахбори умум фиристед шояд уфмс Русия ба ягон хулоса ояд. Ин киёмат дар хеч дунёи давлати демократи нест. Ягон шароити хучатсупори нест.

Dear Tajiks of Moscow, record this onerous process and send to the media. Maybe the Russian migration service will come to a conclusion. No other democratic country in the world has this kind of a problem. Submitting [migration] documents is almost impossible.

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