5 august 2020

Central Asia news

Human trafficking and IS followers in Central Asia

Neo-patrimonial regimes have been established in Central Asian countries following the implosion of the Soviet Union. The new elites divided entire economies and “sweet-spot” government positions between “bosses” and their “vassals.” Meanwhile, the rest of the society, who are excluded from such networks, has no chances to secure good jobs, to peacefully and beneficially conduct business and remains impoverished. Such systems of management create fertile grounds for booming human trafficking and joining the ranks of IS, Kazakh political scientist Talgat Mamyrayymov says in the article he authored below.

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The Central Asian part of the world has been drawing the global community’s close attention lately. Tragic events in Turkey that claimed lives at the hands of natives of Central Asia are the main reason for that. Some experts suggested that coordination bodies of the so-called Islamic State could spring up in our region as well. In this connection, issues of human trafficking in Central Asia, recruitment of future victims and IS supporters warrant special interest and attention. Let’s try analysing the underlying factors of the problems, since it seems like it is more important to discuss the fundamental and underlying causes of human trafficking, not necessarily specific such facts.

The political context

The main basis for widespread human trafficking in Central Asia as well as recruitment of IS members is the socio-political system in the regional countries. Almost all of them witness neo-patrimonial political regimes that are made up of patron-clientele networks headed by the authoritative rules, who are the main source of these elites’ resources. That said, Kyrgyzstan is an exception although initial characteristics of forming neo-patrimonial rule are rearing head. Political thinker Max Weber considered patrimonialism—derived from Latin patrimonium, or hereditary—as a form of political governance. In such a power structure, “principal” would grant “servants” certain rights to utilise government resources, which make up the lion’s share of this entire group’s privately held property. The “principal’s” vassal establishes another group, i.e. the influence group, using his/her own “servants.” The positions and material wellbeing of patrimonial bureaucrats depends on the favourable inclinations of the “principal.”

As a result, the entire system of economy and rich government positions in Central Asia are divided up among the main elite groups composed of patronage-clientele networks. Each such network, in its turn, includes groups of relatives who work for “intelligentsia.” Thereby, the ordinary citizen, who is excluded from such social networks and liaisons, is unable to secure high-paying jobs, to peacefully and beneficially conduct business and remains impoverished. Consequently, due to irreparable poverty and lack of tenable perspectives, these strata of population become potential victims and participants of human trafficking. Solving any problem is impossible in such a system because it exists thanks to the government’s deliberate inaction, since solving it would harm the interests of those in the top echelons of power and authority, including mutual ties and relations among other Central Asian elites. Moreover, many in current power and government offices in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan enjoy close partnership relations with the criminal elements; sometimes it is difficult to differentiate between a government official and notoriety.

The situation in Kazakhstan is somewhat different, but this country is on the receiving—“consuming”—end of the human trafficking networks and activities in the region mostly due to the patronage on the part of pertinent and relevant government bodies. Labour migrants from other Central Asian countries can only work in private households in Kazakhstan as part of a quota provided for their respective countries; the rule is not applicable to Kyrgyzstan because of its membership in the Eurasian Economic Union. Therefore, migrants from Uzbekistan and Tajikistan working at construction sites are violating the law. Interested parties can almost openly purchase Uzbek and Tajik labourers from “suppliers” in Kazakhstan, and these labourers can later be used to build a house, to serve at a brothel, etc.

Apparently batches of “living goods” from Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, headed by their recruiters, must be able to easily and illegally cross the Kazakh border. There are cases when the recruiters plays two roles: finding the victims and delivering them to the border, where their Kazakh “business partner” receives them and resells them as a “wholesale” goods. The suppliers often form construction crews using those Uzbeks and Tajiks and then send them to construction sites in Kazakhstan.

Under the weight of exaggerated threats

In our part of the world, there are such social groups that are very keen to leave their countries to escape pressuring and persecution on part of their respective governments. Virtually every single country in the region is persecuting the so-called Salafis, including denying such groups access to entrepreneurship. At that, they are mainly engaged in small businesses and commerce, which allow them to maintain only an acceptable level of livelihood. The regional powers are also actively “fighting the hijab” by banning or limiting its use. The Tajik government has gone absurd in this matter—they introduced tax for sporting beards and/or forcing the believers to completely shave their beards. Add to this, there is a growing number of people, including in that very Tajikistan as well, where people are arbitrarily accused of extremism and terrorism.

Moreover, some experts are pointing out [the facts] when the government vigorously charges dissidents with ‘extremist’ articles [in the Crime Code]. The risk and threat of extremism and terrorism in the region is very inflated and exaggerated by the local governments in all of Central Asia countries. It is clear that the local powers-that-be are using the “combating religious extremism” argument to strengthen control over and influence on societies and dissidents. Power-wielding bodies are tirelessly launching criminal investigations based on trumped-up charges and evidences, whereby they characterise many phenomena as extremist even though those are not. Practitioners of Islamic groups that are not traditional for the region face unbearable circumstances, which forces many of them to flee and emigrate.

So these people become labour migrants much like the bulk of their fellow countrymen in Russia, for instance; some of them join IS from there. Of course, some of them—sometimes as entire families—travel to IS-held territories directly. Mostly Kazakh and Kyrgyz families are known for such actions. Some of them are forced into staying within IS after they end up there, often tricked by recruiters who promised jobs in Turkey. But extremist groups force them into fighting, working or being sexually exploited in Syria. Thus, many IS followers from this region are recruited specifically while they are looking for jobs in Russia. They have nothing to lose given the diminishing income there. For many of them, the motive of getting a well-paid job and putting their lives of desirable track is one of the most crucial factors when deciding to or not to join IS.

Victims’ voluntary choices

Indeed, the victims of human trafficking were involved in the process due to lies in a number of cases. That said, these very victims needed jobs abroad, which led them enchantment with promises recruiters made. Many victims often first undergo a process of recruitment as candidates for jobs, looking for which they often end up in Kazakhstan. Our country is the regional leader in terms of attracting labour migrants who arrive here ready to do any work. They often end up in the hands of human traffickers. These workers are treated like slaves in most of the cases: the “owner” seizes their passports and they become his “property.”

Talgat Mamyrayymov
For such migrants, consent for exploitation is often the only advantage they have to fight for vacancies. In other words, labour migrants in our country have no rights whatsoever, and rely on their luck, skills they may have and hard-working nature. Even in Astana some migrants fall victim to labour slavery. Therefore, it is natural that those Uzbek citizens who end up in detention facilities in Astana display hopelessness, mortification or resignation. They hope for something better, but are afraid to speak about how police and others treat them.

The socio-cultural decadence

Many “candidates” for labour slavery and IS followers are the result of such socio-cultural factors as segregation, cultural and moral crises in the societies in Central Asia. Due to perceived urbanisation, internal migrants from rural areas in large cities become a burden, competitors in the labour market and hindrance for comfortable life of city dwellers. Yet another reason for city residents’ unfriendly attitudes toward those from rural areas in cities is the rejection of the traditional culture and way of life as practiced in the countryside. Mainly due to this reason, in addition to issues of controlling the population’s movements, we continue practicing propiska [a residency permit and a migration recording tool] in our region. Propiska is a tool for segregation of socially vulnerable internal migrants who have no means to purchase houses or acquire legal registration at their factual place of residence and thereby turn into full-fledged city dwellers, which would subsequently lead to being able to enjoy all that urban life has to offer.

Representatives of “non-traditional Islam” are in a similar situation in Central Asia. The majority of such people are natives of rural areas. With such a backdrop, ideas of Salafis are perceived by the majority of city dwellers as wild and horrifying. The bigger part of the populations in Central Asia, especially those in large cities, were socialised based on such cultural values that are remote not just from Islamic fundamental values, but also from values their own ethnic groups practice as traditional culture. Therefore, it is no wonder that the moral, socio-political and socio-cultural way of life in Central Asia is often perceived by Salafis as “jahiliyyah,” i.e. ignorance, moral decay, promiscuity.

This is one of the reasons why IS followers originally from this part of the world move to IS-controlled areas for permanent residence. It is called hijrah, i.e. departing a country where there is Islamic justice and purity. It is, therefore, noteworthy that the Russian-language mass media outlet of the Syrian branch of Al-Qaedah, White Minaret, has recently reported on a recently killed ethnic Uzbek from Kyrgyzstan saying, “Only recently, he was living a jahili life, just like the majority of youth in the CIS.” The majority of Central Asian labour migrants currently in Russia are not expecting anything good there anyway, especially given the unfolding economic crisis and diminishing demand in labour force. Labour migrants are often treated as “second-class humans” who sometimes get beaten up and killed by skinheads.

In addition to all this, moral degradation of the majority of political, economic or intellectual elite has taken place during the time in office of the current and recently deceased leaders; obviously all this influenced the rest of the society. Low value of humanism, human life and establishment of social pariah strata has become a normalcy in Central Asia. The bad treatment of “slaves” by the “higher” ones has translated onto relations among the regular members of society.

Therefore, there is absolutely nothing surprising in the fact slave trade and human trafficking is flourishing across the region, including selling fellow citizens to slavery inside any given country. For instance, some 40% of victims of human trafficking are Kazakh citizens. And that is exactly why we have these masses of people ready to toil like slaves and join IS. At least the latter seems to promise some good perspectives in life, especially so if that place offers “just social setting.” Political technologists of the Islamic Country are propagating the ideas and values of Islamic socialism, calling the current system in place “capitalistic slavery.” However, many Central Asian citizens are ending up on the bottom of the food chain, just like back home.

Talgat Mamyrayymov, political scientist (Kazakhstan)

Fergana international information agency.