Staunton, July 19 – This past week, Tajikistan’s ambassador to Moscow Imomuddin Sattorov took “under personal control” the investigation of the deaths of five Tajik gastarbeiters in the Russian capital, an unusual move and one that highlights Dushanbe’s concerns about the large number of violent deaths of its co-nationals in Russia.
While the five fatalities in this case appear to hav been the result of an industrial accident that someone tried to cover up, Dushanbe says that every year approximately 1,000 Tajiks who have died in Russia are returned home for burial. If one adds to that figure the number buried in Russia or those who have simply disappeared, the figure “exceeds 2,000” Tajik deaths in Russia annually (regnum.ru/news/polit/1944145.html).
Given the 1 to 1.2 million Tajiks officially working in Russia, one would expect a certain number of deaths from entirely natural causes, but Tajikistan media devotes particular attention to those cases “when Tajiks become victims of murders animated by national hatred.” And the number of these appears to be rising.
Vyacheslav Postavnin, the head of the 21st Century Migration Foundation, tells Regnum that “even in the 1990s,” when ethnic conflicts and shifts of populations were endemic, the level of xenophobia was not as high as it is now. That is when the process of labor migration from Central Asia and the Caucasus began.
Because of economic problems at home, more than a million Tajiks have registered as workers in Russia each year, he says, almost as many as from Ukraine and Uzbekistan, whose populations are several times larger. And the real number is far larger, with the Tajiks forming a significant fraction of the estimated “more than two million” illegal migrants.
Tajik sources routinely give smaller numbers – from 400,000 to 670,000 – both to avoid highlighting how serious the problems in that country now are, how dependent Tajikistan is on cash transfers back, and how unable Dushanbe officials have proved to be in keeping track of the actual outflow of population.
For all those reasons, Dushanbe had been reluctant to raise the issue of deaths in Russia. But as a result of the decline in the value of the ruble, Moscow’s tougher immigration policy, and rising xenophobia in Russia, the government of Tajikistan clearly feels that the time has come to press Moscow on this in order to win points with its increasingly restive population.
One might be surprised that Regnum.ru, a news agency that pushes a Russian nationalist position on almost all issues, carried this story. But in fact, the details about deaths were buried in a report the agency offered about why Tajikistan faced political turbulence and how it will be able to survive only by closer ties with the Russian Federation.