34-year-old Ulugbek had to return to Batken region from labor migration during the outburst of the pandemic. He was the unskilled worker at a construction site in Russia. However, the COVID-19 preventive measures announced in Russia from March to the end of April 2020 led to the closure of construction sites, restaurants, non-food stores and many other services, which affected thousands of migrant workers there.
The lockdown hit migrants employed unofficially especially hard. In other words, despite the existing rules and regulations regarding migration, employers evade them and employ workers unofficially.
Migrants who have problems with documents or agree to odd jobs without signing a labor agreement often get into such situations.
According to the embassy of the Kyrgyz Republic in Moscow, over 60 per cent of citizens of Kyrgyzstan were unemployed during COVID-19. There are no available data on informal work, but, according to migrants, “there are many such workers.”
Upon return to Kyrgyzstan, Ulugbek saw that his country was also in a difficult situation.
Seasonal migrants who came back home in winter 2020 remained here during the period of closed borders because of the lockdown.
This led to the rise in unemployment and high level of competition for vacancies at the local market of construction, services and agriculture.
“I’ve decided to stay in Batken region and tried to work at local construction sites,” Ulugbek said. “If I fail, I will be doing gardening. So far, the prospects are vague.”
The man noted that he was concerned with the future and felt a risk of possible poverty. “I must feed my family and old parents, I am not expecting any help from the state.”
COVID-19 has aggravated existing problems and brought many migrant workers to the brink of survival. This especially affected rural families, who survived on money remittances from abroad.
According to the National Bank of the Kyrgyz Republic, money remittances from January to July 2020 were 10 per cent less compared to the same period of last year.
This decline will have negative consequences for the welfare of households, especially in the country where the level of poverty and unemployment is usually higher, according to the UN Development Program in the Kyrgyz Republic.
The reports of the international organization also emphasize that “the expected general decline in income of the middle class in neighboring countries and in the world may also be the key factor.”
The pandemic has brought the issues faced by migrant workers, especially the ones who had unofficial jobs and lost their only source of income, to the fore, according to the experts of the Coalition for Equality in the Kyrgyz Republic who analyzed the situation when COVID-19 affected discrimination.
Serious programs, creation of jobs in Kyrgyzstan, as well as financial interventions between the states will be needed to level the losses incurred by migrant workers during the epidemic, according to the Coalition.
According to available data, over 800 thousand of 6.5 million Kyrgyzstan are in labor migration in Russia.
According to the National Statistical Committee of the Kyrgyz Republic for 2019, the fifth part of the country residents live below the poverty line (20.1 per cent), in other words, 1.3 million Kyrgyzstanis live on less than one and a half dollars a day. If not money transfers from migrants, 30 per cent of the people would be below the poverty lane.
This article is a translation of the story originally published on this website in Russian.
The article was published under the “Raising Awareness of the COVID and Discrimination Challenge to Strengthen Support to Vulnerable Groups in Kyrgyzstan” project of the School of Peacemaking and Media Technology.
This publication was prepared with the financial support of the European Union. School of Peacemaking and Media Technology in CA is responsible for the content of this publication. The article does not reflect the views of the European Union.