Representatives from think tanks, academia, the international community, civil society, and others recently gathered at a series of roundtables in four Central Asian countries to discuss the challenges and benefits of migration in the sub-region—a phenomenon that is here to stay.
Bryce Quillin, World Bank economist and co-author of the two Bank’s recent studies on the issue-- “Migration and Remittances: Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union”, and “Remittances in the CIS countries” --started his tour of Central Asia in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan. According to the reports, Kazakhstan is the ninth-largest migrant-receiving country in the world, receiving most migrants from its neighbors in Central Asia. At the same time, since transition, Kazakhstan has also been a major source of migrants, mostly to Russia, which makes it the seventh-largest migrant-supplying country as well.
Participants at the Astana roundtable were greeted by Mr. Sergei Shatalov, World Bank Country Manager for Kazakhstan. Representatives of the Migration Police, the Ministry of Justice, the State Agency on Statistics, the Presidential administration, and the Parliament took an active part in the discussion.The interesting dialogue with policymakers in Astana was followed by a lively discussion in Almaty, the former capital and the biggest city in Kazakhstan, where a diverse audience touched upon various aspects of migration in their discussion. The roundtable was opened by Annette Dixon, World Bank Country Director for Central Asia, and John Litwack, Lead Economist for Kazakhstan. About 50 representatives of local think tanks, research and academic institutions, NGOs, international organizations, embassies, and mass media discussed issues such as the legalization of labor migrants, the so-called “brain drain” and its consequences, the demographic situation in the country, and the need to strengthen the productive labor force to support dynamic economic and industrial growth in Kazakhstan. It was agreed that Kazakhstan, as a major migrant receiving country, needs to acknowledge that labor migration has many positive features, and that much needs to be done in society to improve the perception of migrants and ensure proper regulation of labor migration.The Kyrgyz Republic was the next country to host the World Bank’s presentation on migration and remittances. It is among the top 25 countries in the world in the amount of remittances, measured as share of GDP, that Kyrgyz migrants send back home from various countries; remittances account for more than 10 percent of GDP in Kyrgyzstan.
Around 65 people representing various groups of society gathered for the presentation in Bishkek, the capital, where the roundtable was chaired by Deputy Chairman of the State Committee for Migration and Employment Dosmir Uzbekov. The discussion was very spirited; many questions were raised, including some on the methodology of the surveys that fed into the two Bank reports.The tour of Central Asia was concluded in Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan. In Tajikistan, remittances play an even greater role than in the Kyrgyz Republic. According to the studies, Tajikistan is the leading country in the world in terms of the share of remittances in the country’s GDP, which is around 35 percent. According to official figures, some 400,000 people from Tajikistan are working abroad, although independent estimates put the real figure closer to 1.5 million. A local economist, Hojimuhammad Umarov, says that around 85 percent of most families’ income in Tajikistan comes from migrant remittances. The presentation in Dushanbe attracted around 20 participants representing government agencies, embassies, international organizations, think tanks, and mass media.
The theme of migration is very complex and multi-faceted, touching upon economic, social, cultural, and political aspects of each country’s development and individual people’s lives. Participants in the roundtables concluded that a very balanced approach to the topic is necessary, because migration, if properly regulated, can benefit all sides: receiving countries, supplying countries, and migrants themselves.
The presentations in the four cities received generous coverage in the local media.