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Migrants return home to Tajikistan

28 April 09 19:30 GMT

By Rayhan Demetrie
BBC News, Dushanbe

As the Moscow train approaches the platform at Dushanbe station, it's the end of a three-day journey for hundreds of migrant workers.

The atmosphere is slightly chaotic, as people run after the carriages trying to locate their loved ones.

Looking out of the train are the smiling faces of those who have not seen their relatives for a long time.

Usually at this time of the year, thousands of migrants would be travelling abroad in search of seasonal work.

Last year over a million Tajiks found work abroad, mainly on construction sites in Russia.

But the Russian building industry is at a standstill, and as a result Tajikistan is experiencing a phenomenon best described as reverse migration.

Falling remittances

In Chiptura village, 30km (20 miles) south of Dushanbe, Nosir Djalilov has recently returned from Russia.

He has done well from the money he has earned abroad, and his new house is currently under construction.

"This is my first visit back home in nine months," says Nosir, sitting outside in the warm spring sunshine with his five young children.

He intends to go back to Russia, crisis or no crisis.

"This way I can earn enough to provide for my family. I need to go again to give my children a better life, so that they can get an education. This is what life is about," he says.

A short walk in the village reveals the extent to which households in Tajikistan are dependant on remittances which migrants send home.

Almost every man we meet has worked or is still working in Russia.

In a nearby house, guests are gathering for a farewell party.

Toimurod has been working in Russia for the past 10 years. He came home in February, and is now going back to try his luck again.

"Last time I was in Russia there was still work, but I am not sure whether there is any work left," he acknowledges.

In a kitchen with concrete walls and a little gas stove, Toimurod's wife Chinnigul is cooking plov, a traditional rice and lamb dish for her guests.

"I am used to seeing him leave," says Chinnigul as she stirs the pot.

"He has been away for many years. A Tajik woman is used to this. Who would not want her husband to be nearby? But there is no work here and we are dependent on the money he sends us."

Remittances earned by Toimurod provide the only household income. There are many thousands of families across Tajikistan like his.

According to the International Monetary Fund, migrants earned almost half of Tajikistan's GDP last year.

But there will be a decline of about 30% in remittances this year, says Asia Development Bank country director Makoto Ojiro.

That means lots of migrant workers are returning from Russia and Kazakhstan - and as a result the number of unemployed people in Tajikistan will rise.

The Tajik government says it will provide employment opportunities for returning workers, and international aid programmes are also providing funds for infrastructure projects to create more jobs.

But the problem remains acute.

On some street corners in Dushanbe, unofficial labour exchanges have sprung up for unskilled labour.

At one such labour market, up to 100 men sit and wait for a contractor to hire them for the day.

They are ready to do any work, and wages are typically between $2 and $10 a day.

Mahmat Sharipov is one such worker, who returned from Russia after work dried up.

"I spent 18 years there. Because of the crisis I had to return to Tajikistan, but it is the same situation here - crisis, and no work," he says.

"What am I supposed to do? Go and steal? Well, I might well do if my children want to eat and there is no money."

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