27 september 2020

Central Asia news

US think tanks are interested in the migration processes in Russia and religious situation among migrants

03.09.2010 10:40 msk

Alexey Statorstin

Migration Russia

Photo © Alexey Starostin

US think tanks, specifically, the Kennan Institute and Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), explore various aspects of labor migration in Russia. In order to collect preliminary information about migration flows, statistics and opinions of Russian experts the research teams visited the number of big Russian cities, including Yekaterinburg. Ferghana.Ru correspondent met the scholars and learned about the migration aspects, interesting for American researchers.

There were many visits of foreign scientists last summer. Blair Ruble (the Director of Kennan Institute, one of the most prominent Slavists in USA, the urban planning expert and the author of few books about Russia and Ukraine) and Cynthia Buckley (the sociology instructor at the Texas University (Austin) were the first ones to visit Yekaterinburg.

American guests met the scholars, providing the assistance to migrants, representatives of public organizations and the leaders of national expat communities at the residence of Tatiana Merzlyakova, the ombudsperson in the Sverdlov Oblast. The purpose of the meeting was to collect information about major migration flows in the region, tolerance level of local population in relation to migrants and problems, related to socio-cultural adaptation of labor migrants at Ural.

In her presentation Cynthia Buckley said that this autumn American scholars will launch big project on studying labor migration in Eurasia.

Cynthia Buckley
Cynthia Buckley

"We would like to carefully study the migration processes in Eurasia – said the Texas University instructor – since the migration is normal and essential process in condition of globalized world. In the first part of the research we are going to collect stat and scientific data on migrants, identify the level of education, age, gender structure of migrants, and define the areas of their employment and attitude, shown by host communities. The second part of the research will be dedicated to migrants’ social adaptation process and how local expat communities help their fellow countrymen adapt in the new place, what appropriate instruments are used by the immigrants themselves, how they get the employment and housing, how their children are treated in the schools. Third part of our research will cover the situation analysis in the migrants’ native countries – how their families are doing, how migration is correlated with the local labor markets and socio-political situation".

The research targets at five original countries (Tajikistan, Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Vietnam) and few destination areas, such as Vladimir and Sverdlov Oblasts, Altay and Krasnodar territories.

According to Blair Ruble, today the United States, Europe, Russian and many Asian countries face the migration problem that turned into universal phenomenon.

Blair Ruble
Blair Ruble

"While working in Kiev, I had to deal with migration problems and I realized there were many advantages and problems. Migration is very painful issue everywhere. Our country is the country of migrants; nonetheless, we observe very serious problems in this area. The changes in our migration laws are not predictable. On the other hand, the global migration processes are not studied in details yet. The world migration science is based on US experience. However, this theory is not enough to adequately explain modern processes. The theoretical base must be updated; we need new impulse that, hopefully, will be produced by this big research. The main point is that those communities, facing the migration problems, keep high level of tolerance and understanding towards immigrants and native population understands that sound and regulated migration is positive phenomenon", the Director of Kennan Institute believes. He also mentioned Canada as the country, successfully managing the adaptation of migrants.

Explaining the positions, American scholars and their Russian colleagues discussed major problems, faced by migrants at Middle Ural, the methods of their social adaptation, the attitude, demonstrated by authorities and local communities.

"From what we read in Internet and heard from you we can conclude that there is unique situation in the Sverdlov Oblast: although you do not have too big migration flows, they are coming from all the countries. Your region gained rich experience of learning the migration issues, developed mechanisms of hosting migrants and their adaptation. We will definitely consider these points in our research", Cynthia Buckley noted.

Shortly after this meeting Yekaterinburg was also visited by the representatives of the Center for Strategic and International Studies that also met the experts in migration issues. The prominent terrorism and international security experts Thomas Sanderson (the deputy director and senior fellow in the CSIS Transnational Threats Project) and David Gordon (TNT program coordinator and research assistant) were interested in the religious background of labor migrants, coming from Central Asia to Russia. In the last years they have been studying the influence of Islamic factor to the domestic and foreign policies of Central Asian governments; they also ran field research there. The experts visited the number of Russian cities, including Moscow and Yekaterinburg, in order to learn religiosity of migrant communities. They were interested to find out what percent of guest workers visit Russian mosques, learn about increasing and decreasing religiosity away from home, the activities of escaped Central Asian Islamic radicals and members of Hizb ut-Tahrir al-Islami extremist organization, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and others in Russia. In other words, the research agenda was how migration to Russia influences the religiosity of labor migrants and what attitude they bring back home.

Thomas Sanderson and David Gordon
Thomas Sanderson and David Gordon

In the interview with Ferghana.Ru correspondent the scholars explained the goals of their research and evaluated the role of Islam as political force in Central Asia.

Ferghana.Ru: - What are the goals of your research?

David Gordon: - This is the comprehensive research, dedicated to revival of Islam in Central Asia, the appropriate response of governments and impacts of these response actions on the geopolitical situation in the region.

Ferghana.Ru: - What is the impact of Islam on people in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, the countries where you conducted research?

Thomas Sanderson: - Depending on the country and even individual region the situation is different and constantly changing. The Islamic traditions are especially strong in the rural areas since local people had the opportunity to keep and pass traditions. On the other hand, the position of religions is less strong in urban areas. At the moment, we are at the begging phase of our research: we ran literature review, had business trips and produced certain idea about the research topic.

Ferghana.Ru: - Can we affirm that Islam is the political factor in Central Asia?

David Gordon: - We certainly can. The governments of these republics realize the presence of extremists groups; therefore, they try to keep Islam under strict control. The governments fear the politicization of Islam and put best efforts in order to suppress this process. This is the reason why opposition groups and parties with Islamic ideology have no access to power.

Ferghana.Ru: - In your opinion, which Islamic group is the most dangerous for the region?

Thomas Sanderson: - We asked our respondents in Uzbekistan similar question and they named Hizb ut-Tahrir and IMU. To be honest, they see no difference between them; both groups are accepted as threat. However, their presence in the region is not the same. IMU actively operates in Pakistan and less openly works in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.

The research of Thomas Sanderson and David Gordon
The research of Thomas Sanderson and David Gordon

Ferghana.Ru: - Do you think that in condition of weak official power in southern Kyrgyzstan this region may become the base for extremist operations?

Thomas Sanderson: - Yes, at the level they were present there earlier, targeting at Uzbekistan due to its geographic proximity. I believe today’s Kyrgyzstan is the best place for development of such groups; they have always been there since the civil war in Tajikistan and subsequent conflicts. First of all, the interethnic clashes in southern Kyrgyzstan undermined the legitimacy of the government. We know that main argument of such organizations as Hizb ut-Tahrir is that government cannot perform its liabilities while the radical groups can do it or at least say so. Hence, when the government faces troubles these groups have wide space for operations.

Ferghana.Ru: - Do you have information about the links between radical groups and drug trafficking?

David Gordon: - My personal opinion is not backed up by certain figures yet: IMU is linked to production and supply of drugs.

Ferghana.Ru: - Can you estimate the potential of Islam in Central Asia? Is the religion able to lead people against their governments?

Thomas Sanderson: - I personally do not think so. Even radical Islam does not possess such power yet. Obviously, the biggest challenge is the magnified response of the government to the threat of Islamic extremism since repressions against Islamists pour oil on flames and, therefore, intensify the threat.

Ferghana.Ru: - Nonetheless, you are considering Islam as quite a big power since you came here to study the religious background of the migrants?

David Gordon: - Yes, this is one of the major areas of interest. The goal of our trip is to observe the forms of practicing the religion among the migrants in Russia and ask appropriate questions.

The interest of American think tanks in studying the migration in Russia and especially such unusual aspect as religiosity of migrants, attracting poor attention of Russian scholars, make us think that USA consider labor migration as real strategic challenge our country will need to face for the first time while Russia does not have clear answers yet. The desire of the superpower to be aware of these issues is understandable and logical. The surprising fact is that foreign colleagues intensively study this topic while Russian research do not pay enough attention to studying all aspects of life of migrant communities.

Alexey Statorstin