Collapsing Guest Worker Transfer Payments Pushing Central Asia Into Perfect Storm

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 12 Issue: 165

(Source: Vedomosti)
(Source: Vedomosti)

The collapse in the size of transfer payments from Central Asians working in the Russian Federation—they are down more than half from last year—is having a domino effect in the region and pushing Eurasia into what will, more than likely, be a political perfect storm. On the one hand, it is placing burdens on the countries there that their vulnerable, authoritarian governments are incapable of addressing. And on the other, it is creating a rapidly expanding new pool of people—both guest workers forced to return from Russia and their families who, in many cases, have been left without any source of income—from which radical Islamist groups could be able to recruit effectively.

Monetary transfers through Russian banks from Russia to Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan fell 40 percent, 58 percent, and 55 percent, respectively, during the first six months of 2015. And the actual decline was almost certainly larger because guest workers from these countries in Russia, the main source of such transfers, also make use of a variety of informal networks to send their earnings home to their dependents. These informal remittance channels have also seen marked declines, as Russian officials have tried to choke them off; furthermore, instability in Central Asia has made them even less reliable than they have been in the past (EDM, September 9), they and not outsiders from these countries’ southern neighbors or from the Middle East could become a major component of the popular threats to these governments (see EDM, September 9).

And there is another probability as well: At least some of these returning and impoverished guest laborers are likely to be attracted by promises of high salaries from those seeking to recruit them as soldiers for militant extremist units in the Middle East, South Asia and elsewhere—thus filling the ranks of radical Islamist groups far from their homelands. After all, they have shown themselves willing to travel in order to make money in the past.