When Rasulov Bakhtier arrived in Abkhazia in 2012 as a migrant laborer, he had no idea he would be prohibited from returning to his native Uzbekistan via Russia. As a result, Bakhtier, a construction worker and father of two, now finds himself among hundreds of “guest captives” in the separatist enclave.
Judging by the long line outside the Russian Embassy in Tashkent one recent afternoon, new Russian legislation offering citizenship to Russian-speakers is prompting lots of individuals in Uzbekistan to ponder emigration. Some see a chance to escape economic woes; others, stymied by Uzbekistan’s own Byzantine bureaucracy, want to seize on an opportunity to obtain a proper passport.
There are three ways Central Asian guest workers travel to Russia, the magnet that draws millions of Kyrgyz, Tajiks and Uzbeks each year. The most expensive is by plane. Train is less pricey. Bus is cheaper still, but it’s also the slowest and most prone to scams from beginning to end.
Hear a man speaking Tajik on Moscow’s fashionable Krymskaya Embankment, and you could be forgiven for thinking he's migrant worker on break from one of the many construction sites in the area. But listen carefully and you realize that it’s a native Russian-speaker practicing a new language.
It’s the Central Asian labor migrant’s second-worst nightmare (an encounter with violent Russian xenophobes is usually the first): on arrival in Russia, an immigration officer reviews the submitted passport with cold intensity. Then, a red light goes off and a couple of border guards swoop in and lead the would-be migrant away. Border guards have identified another one on the list.
Anyone following Tajikistan’s presidential election cycle knows that Imomali Rahmon is a cinch to win another seven-year term on November 6. But the lack of genuine electoral options is a source of frustration for an important constituency – the million-strong community of Tajik labor migrants in Russia.