The lure of work in Ukraine’s war-torn region has proved difficult for Central Asian labor migrants to resist, and Russian companies have taken notice. Despite the inherent dangers of working in an active conflict zone, opportunities in Ukraine have proven to be both credible and lucrative. Entangled ethnic minorities such as the Pamiris of Tajikistan are particularly vulnerable to government efforts to prevent their integration within the wider economy at home.
“Leaving everything behind was a really difficult decision, but I knew that if I didn’t, I would be arrested, and who knows what would have happened to me,” said Rashid, a Pamiri labor migrant who had been living in Mariupol until December. Used to work in 2022 told us.
There is currently a sizeable population of labor migrants from the Pamir region of Tajikistan. Involved In reconstruction work in Russian-occupied Ukrainian territory. The Pamirs are under a crackdown by Tajikistan’s security services, which has crushed dozens of NGOs and deprived the region of funding for its 300,000 residents.
When peaceful protests broke out in Khorog and Wamar in November 2021, Tajik authorities responded with brutal force. Soon after the crackdown, security forces started tracking down everyone who dared to participate in those demonstrations. As a result a arrest wave, torture, looting, kidnapping, extrajudicial killings, and confiscation of property that spread among the Pamiri community. As of July 2022, more than 700 Pamiris have found themselves on the wrong side of the law, with at least 40 civilians killed.
Rasheed’s mother was among the many victims of this repression. On 29 May, military forces reportedly looted and burnt down his outlet in a local shopping centre. Rashid, being the only able-bodied person in the family, looked for work to support his mother as the sole earner. Many Pamiri families are now in need of food, basic necessities, heat and for some, housing.
At the end of October, Rashid received a job announcement on the social network “Vkontakte”. The agency was hiring people for reconstruction work in Mariupol, and they were offering work on a rotational basis for 30 to 90 days, with salaries of 80,000 to 250,000 roubles. “I needed to provide for my mother, and this was my chance to make some real money,” he said.
According to Rashid, there are now 300 migrant Pamiri workers working for Russian construction firms in Mariupol, a city that was nearly destroyed by the Russian army last spring and is now under its military occupation. Since the reconstruction of Mariupol is a high priority for the Russian government to win over the peoples of Ukraine’s occupied territories, the workers’ presence helps serve an important political objective.
Russian companies are taking advantage of social media platforms, such as Telegram groups, and rely on word-of-mouth recommendations from fellow Central Asian workers to advertise jobs to a growing pool of potential employees. While jobs in Russia require extensive paperwork and permits, working in Ukraine requires only a passport, making it an attractive prospect for those seeking financial stability.
Conditions are often a far cry from what is advertised. After arriving in Mariupol by bus from Moscow, Rashid quickly notes that life in the work camp “reminds [him] of a prison. After coming down with an illness, he decided to quit his job and move to Moscow, but only received half the wages he had been paid for doing so.
Many other Tajik and Central Asian workers are leaving Danger from their earnings by unscrupulous employers. But for many like Rashid, returning home is not an option. “I would rather go to Mariupol than to go to Tajikistan again,” he said firmly.
But the risks remain serious. Rashid reported that many of his former colleagues, including Pamiris, with whom he had been in contact until recently, were transferred from Mariupol to an undisclosed location as of April 7, 2023, and since then he has not been in contact with them. They believe they were sent to the front to dig fortifications in preparation for an expected Ukrainian counter-offensive.
Other Pamiris have been forced to go to the front because of changing conditions in Russia. Zubaida and Aleem, a married couple from the Pamirs, were among thousands laid off by Western companies Closed His operations in Russia following the invasion of Ukraine. “We were left without jobs and without any means of survival,” Aleem said. From March 2022 onwards, they are barely making ends meet by doing temporary jobs here and there. But like Rashid, returning to Tajikistan is not a viable option amid widespread repression in his homeland.
According to the UN Special Envoy, the Tajik State Committee on National Security summoned the heads of 128 local NGOs to a meeting in the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast (GBAO), where they were forced to “voluntarily self-terminate”. I went. More than 30 NGOs, including those working with children, have suspended their activities, and more than 10 have self-closed under pressure. These organizations have been an important lifeline for much of Pamiri society.
Zubaida said, “We don’t know what to do, we are very lost.” “We had to pay for our apartment and my daughter’s kindergarten. We also have family in Tajikistan who rely on us for support.
The couple is also grappling with an ethical dilemma. “We have never supported Putin’s idea of invading Ukraine,” Zubaida said. “We do not want to be seen as supporting an aggressive policy that violates international law.”
The decision to move to Ukraine remains a difficult one. They know the risks, but they also know they can’t afford to do nothing. It is a choice that many Central Asian labor migrants are forced to make in the face of economic hardship and political turmoil.
Alim, who narrowly escaped attempts by his cousin to lure him to Mariupol, also shared a troubling update. He reveals that his cousin had disappeared without a trace since the beginning of April. Alim fears that his cousin was either drafted to fight on the front lines against the Ukrainians or took on the task of bringing back dead Russian soldiers from the battlefield. Shockingly, some Central Asian immigrants were rumored to be Involved In this dangerous work, risking his life for a handsome salary.
Along with the casualties, many Tajik citizens have already been sent to fight in the Russian war in Ukraine. Allegedly Emerging. However, there has been no response from the Tajik government against the use of its citizens in the war. This is because almost all of them have dual citizenship with Russia. In contrast, Kazakhstan’s Committee for National Security (KNB) is investigating 10 criminal cases related to it. to participate of the Kazakhs in the hostilities in Ukraine. According to Kazakh law, participation in foreign armed conflicts is punishable by imprisonment for five to 10 years.
Recent reports indicate that Tajik and Pamiri migrants in Russia are facing increasing pressure to actively participate in the war in Ukraine. Individuals with Russian citizenship are reportedly at risk of losing it if they do not enlist, while those seeking citizenship may also be mobilized for the war effort. Additionally, there are reports that labor migrants from Tajikistan and other Central Asian republics seeking work permits in Russia are being given pamphlets advertising military service.
According to the Sirena Telegram channel, the Sakharov Migration Center near Moscow is recruiting migrants for the war effort by promising them Russian citizenship. On April 4, the center began a second wave of agitation for emigrants, emigrants applying for work patents to employees forced to serve under contract in the Russian army. Those who agree to the offer need to sign the contract on the spot. In addition, the administration of the Odintsovo district of the Moscow oblast is actively campaigning to attract volunteers to the armed forces, including foreign citizens from Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Ongoing Information booklets.
The growing repression of the Pamiris has pushed some to the front lines of the Ukrainian conflict. Central Asian labor migrants have been drawn to opportunities exploited by Russian companies in the war-torn region of Ukraine. However, working in an active conflict zone comes with significant risks.
The limited participation of Pamiris in the domestic economy as a result of government policies increases their vulnerability. To further Russia’s political goals, a large number of Pamiri labor migrants are currently working on reconstruction projects in the Russian-occupied territories of Ukraine. Families of the Pamiri community are in dire need due to the repression, and some are being forced to seek work abroad on the basis of false promises.
The ongoing repression in Tajikistan has made it impossible to return home. Rasheed and other Pamiri migrant workers struggle morally as they try to balance anti-aggressive policies with trying to survive economically. Tajik citizens, including migrants from Central Asia, are engaged in dangerous conflict-related work. Immigrants from Tajikistan and the Pamir region living in Russia are under increased pressure to participate or risk losing their citizenship.
The situation draws attention to the interrelationship of the plight of vulnerable communities and geopolitical events. Rasheed, Zubaida, Aleem and others serve as examples of the challenging decisions that migrants from Central Asia have had to make in the face of hardship, oppression and threats of war. This highlights the urgent need to focus on the rights and well-being of marginalized communities affected by conflict.
This article was originally published by Oxus Society for Central Asian Affairs and is republished with permission.