Studies on migration from Uzbekistan were first conducted in 2008 with the assistance of UNDP of Uzbekistan and published in a book, “Labor Migration in the Republic of Uzbekistan, Social, Legal and Gender Aspects.”
Generally Uzbek emigration is monitored since 2008 and the first report was published under the title “Labor Migration in the Republic of Uzbekistan, Social, Legal and Gender Aspects”. Its author, Evgeiy Abdoullaev, argued that the main reason for mass migration of the population from the region is the lack of perspective and the low standard of life. The report pointed out that migration had to be seen as a temporary phenomenon.
Migration, as the way to stop the progress of the slow degradation of living conditions and reduce the decline of purchasing power, was estimated by the migrants as a temporary phenomenon.
A French researcher studying labor migration from Uzbekistan to Russia, USA and Korea the North Sophie Massutt studied this phenomenon in 2009.
Today the topic, yet again, takes the center of the stage. This is due to the tendency to relate migration and radicalization. This alleged causal connection leads to the belief that this society is a hothouse par excellence of terrorism.
Is this statement a challenge that migrants are really vulnerable to the process of their radicalization? How and to what extent emigrants are attracted by the lure of radicalism?
An Uzbek migrant worker doesn’t leave for himself in order to improve his own living conditions, he “sacrifices himself” for his family. In accordance with the family decision, he leaves to improve the existing conditions of his family. The goal of the majority of Uzbek migrants is not to simply improve their own economic condition but to support their family. Relatives and friends invest in them and they, in turn, are expected to reciprocate the favor in some way.
This family strategy at the level of Uzbek society imposes on the migrant a mission to raise the financial well-being of his family and its social status in the Uzbek society. This mentality leads migrants to do their utmost in order to improve the social status of their households in Uzbekistan.
Migrants often withhold the harshness of their living conditions abroad not to inflict panic on their family. Enduring hardships in silence is considered an inescapable rite of transition that will eventually be rewarded by joining the middle class, hence the economic stability.
In recent years, migrants are gradually forming self-help groups in some relevant host countries, especially in Russia, which attracts 10% of Uzbek expatriates. Based on common countrymanship and/or family relationships , these groups tend to reproduce the preexisting power relationships. This is often so in the formation of the brigades of laborers. These affinities build up or favor mutual trust and lead to the creation of closed micro-societies with inner codes of conduct. On the one hand, these clans prevent individuals from making extreme choices like joining extremists. On the other hand, however, these very clans cannot fully respond to one’s disorientation or fill emotional voids.
Living as migrants in Russia: a cultural shock
Mass migration of the labor force from Central Asia to Russia generates many problems related to their adaptation to a new and unusual environment. The main difficulty of those coming from Uzbekistan is that Uzbeks are not very enthusiastic to integrate in the new society of the host country—most of them stay in the country temporarily. They prefer to work seasonally and return home after a certain period. Moving to a new country often implies a “cultural shock.” The meeting-clash with different cultures is related to how new comers perceive the host country and how, in turn, they are perceived by locals. Mutual distrust affects cohabitation and sometimes triggers ethnic conflicts. Wage policies that make the legalization of migrants economically disadvantageous increase tensions. On the one hand, locals consider new comers as “job thieves.” On the other hand, migrants are discouraged from integrating into the community. According to a survey conducted in 2017, the majority of migrants from Central Asia are mainly low-skilled workers and their ages ranges from 20 to 60 years old. 60% of them have higher education and 40% a secondary education or a vocational degree. They generally find jobs as common laborers in the construction industry or in the small and itinerant trade, where their qualifications are not needed. Many of them live in a parallel world isolated from locals. The latter tend to vent their social tensions—i.e., low wages, lack of opportunities, the rising of unpunished crimes- on immigrants, no matter if they fulfill all law requirements, are hard-working and pay Russian taxes. Prejudices and stereotypes have risen to such an extent that migrants are becoming scapegoats. Yet, politics and the media are not neutral observers. In fact, they are fanning the flame of discrimination and widely exploiting it as a weapon of mass distraction in order to consolidate their social control. Stigmatized as “unnecessary people,” migrants try their best to make themselves invisible and some of them harbor resentments towards the host community.
The level of education of 60% of higher education people and 40% are with secondary and secondary special education. None of them works in their specialty.
Adaptation and re-socialization in a new culture of the country that is different from their own.
Labors migrant as a target of radical recruiters
According to official figures, 2,500 citizens from Central Asia have joined the ranks of the Islamic state in the last few years. It is difficult to verify the accuracy of these data. Today, labor migrants are considered a recruiting field par excellence of terrorist manpower, as well as young people, criminals, prisoners, ethnic minorities. According to experts, the main reason for extremism lies in political and socio-economic and interregional problems. A targeted propaganda is spread throughout the Internet. Due to its social conflicts and ethnic tensions, Central Asia is nowadays considered a promising market by terrorist organizations. Security services of the countries of the Central Asian region, as well as the media, report that Islamists are gradually taking over control of the bazaars especially in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, where they gradually supplanting traditional criminals. Peddlers are compelled to pay protection money to radical groups. Furthermore, some local prisons are controlled by religious extremists. Due to the transboundary nature of terrorism, an effective counteraction would require a joint response from the five republics of Central Asia. However, this possibility is currently hindered by infightings and unstable relations.
The phenomenon of limited radicalization in the environment of ore migrants from Central Asia in Russia.
In the wake of the existing studies, another international project was carried out in 2017 which I took part in as a member of the team of Uzbek experts. The aim of this study was understanding the potential causes of radicalization among labor migrants abroad (Russia), and identifying the risk factors. As a result of the survey, the expression “limited [spreading of] radicalization” was adopted to highlight the reluctance of the majority of migrants towards any form of religious extremism. According to police, there are only 3-400 fundamentalists out of 3,500,000 Uzbek laborers working in the Russian Federation. Empirically, our goal was to elaborate the largest collection of data available regarding: working and living conditions of migrants, their religious practice before and after migration. In doing so, we took into account the main reasons (ideology, psychological and partly religious stability) for radicalization and relative openness to recruitment among labor migrants. Our research tools were the individual and group interviews with further cabinet reproductions and research. Surveys were conducted in 14 cities and suburbs of the Russian Federation. 64 respondents were interviewed. Furthermore, 25 more respondents were unofficially interviewed before and after the project .
Fanatic proselytism is relatively small among Uzbek newcomers. Unlike in some neighboring countries, religious radicals are continuously monitored in Uzbekistan. However, this does not necessarily mean that there are no critical issues or even potential threats.
The main risks are:
1. Legal vacuum, i.e., the lack of comprehensible agreements between the Russian Federation and the Republic of Uzbekistan—which are currently changing—on labor migration, the obstacles in official registration caused by laws limiting labor migration in Russia);
2. Economic costs (high cost of licensing documents, corruption, etc.);
3. Difficulties of adaptation (ignorance of Russian laws, poor knowledge of the language and, as a consequence, difficulties with legalizing their status).
However, incentives are also limited, as labor migrants learn to adapt to these conditions, using the social structures for mutual support such as mahalla (small oriental community), workers’ brigades and groups that are habitual for the home country and created on the same principles. This contributes to the establishment of internal control, as well as a restriction against the involvement of young migrants into the extremist groups.
Many labor migrants have learned to overcome social discrimination and social alienation with hard work and reliability. Hence, locals are slowly getting to look at them with fresh eyes.
Description of the study
Ideologically speaking, religious extremism shows high adaptability. The environment of labor migrants in Russia makes no exception. The number of recruits varies, but even a minimum number of adepts is worth the attention. Many reports came forward in the last few years, but they are generally journalistic works based only on statistics. Instead, large-scale investigations on the causes of radicalization among laborers were never carried out so far. In this light, our project is of great value for geographical coverage of 14 cities and suburbs throughout Russia.
Principles of the selection of respondents
A total of 250 people among citizens of Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, as well as ethnic Uzbeks coming Kyrgyzstan. A particular attention is paid to the difference of the interviewees’ social backgrounds (simple workers, heads of Diasporas, imams, lawyers, migration specialists in the field of social sciences. This variety conceals a discrepancy between mainstream migrants and their inner élites, who are acquainted with Russia’s political and legislative achievements and are likewise knowledgeable about the conditions of their countrymen. Especially imams and the presidents of the diaspora organizations operate closely with laborers. The project was also supported by the close collaboration of government specialists from three Central Asian countries, i.e. . . .
The project was simultaneously attended by specialists from three main countries of Central Asia. The experts from each country conducted their surveys and studies autonomously, which made it possible to obtain the most impartial and independent results.
Limitations, the basic strategy of interviews and research
Initially, radicalized elements, i.e., those who dealt directly with ISIS, were expunged from our survey. Access to such personalities was made very limited or impossible for security reasons. However, it turned out that the study of the environment where recruitment is conducted and of the set of preconditions for radicalization, was no less important in order to determine the criticalities that can make laborers receptive to such a message. Their knowledge and their experience were and still are the most valuable source. It should be pointed out, however, that interviewers had to get over migrants’ distrust and fears by means of indirect questions. The questionnaire had a free and flexible structure and took into account the social and educational statuses of the respondents, and in order to increase confidence . . .
Despite the large scale of surveys, it was hard for us to portray the speculations that bring a migrant to join a radical or a criminal group. The number and the background of our respondents cannot claim to fully recreate the profile of religious extremists. Therefore, the factors listed below should be considered as additional but not decisive incentives for one’s radicalization. Our survey shows that under particular conditions of marginalization many migrants turned out to be appealed by radicalism but a few of them decided to cross the boundaries of the law. The youth—most of whom have poor education—are the most vulnerable to the issue of radicalization, especially those who pass the time on social networks. This mostly happens when a young unemployed migrant falls prey to illegal organizations.
Legal aspects are often associated with bureaucratic obstacles and (often crafted) difficulties in the preparation of work and residence permits burden the legalization process, and open the way to corruption. Almost all respondents mentioned them. These factors lead to the phenomenon that a significant part of labor migrants (up to 20-25%) are not registered in due time, which make them potential prey for illegal networks.
On the one hand, systematic delays provoke alienation and psychological depression (information of foremen in Moscow, Samara, St. Petersburg). On the other hand, the majority of migrants know very little or nothing about Russian laws. Furthermore, they cannot even hope to get legal assistance from their embassy They often find themselves in a desperate situation and cannot obtain legal protection from the embassy for they are not officially registered as workers living abroad. After the recent change in the Uzbek leadership, things are gradually improving and Tashkent looks determined in taking the necessary bilateral measures in order to streamline the recognition process.
For the time being, only the direct intervention of diaspora organizations before competent authorities has improved the migrants living conditions in some local areas: i.e., Novosibirsk, Yekaterinburg, Astrakhan.
Economic and legal vulnerability
The two issues are closely associated. Dishonest employers can greatly benefit from legislative gaps and bureaucratic inefficiencies when it comes to terminating the employment of a migrant. Black economy and the concomitant corruption of labor inspectors are commonplace. Russian entrepreneurs rely on gang-masters—who are generally Uzbeks of Russian citizenship—for the recruitment of the labor force.
In this respect, “illegal” labor migrants are particularly vulnerable. Some of them live in absolute poverty and are at the mercy of the gang-masters, which entails social alienation and frustration. By contrast, criminals and religious extremists have large amounts of money and are ready to support new adepts financially, as well as their families. Thus, the alternative can particularly appeal to the inexperienced or the naïve, especially those who came to Russia with no knowledge of the local labor marked and no connections with the diaspora. In the word of an interviewee, “[ . . . ]they go to Russia as if they move to a neighboring village.”
Xenophobic discriminations sharpen the sense of alienation, as remarked by the overwhelming majority of respondents. They complain the way they are generally portrayed by media, as a source of social disorder. However, fair journalistic investigations do exist and highlight precisely the inefficiencies and the corrupt network around the migrants, but they are restricted to independent newspapers or blogs and draw little attention.
Individual vulnerabilities and motivations
Besides objective difficulties, individual vulnerabilities attract criminal or radical recruiters. Poor education, unwillingness or inability to adapt, inexperience, financial and mental instability, psychological traumas are all pull factors for recruiters, as well as the chance of a good death to redeem a mediocre lifetime or, last but not least, a penchant for “easy earnings.” It should not be overlooked, however, that the overwhelming majority of migrant workers are equally vulnerable to the impact of systemic motivators, although the mass of them are stable. A small part of this kind of labor migrants succumbs and let themselves be captivated by the arguments of recruiters. The testimonies of lawyers or observers (Samara, Yekaterinburg) show that a special way of recruiting young labor get comfortably advantage of their personal life inexperience and naiveté, their uprooting.
Recruiters offer not only material assistance, but they gather special brigades for young, but alienated young people among labor migrants, that creates the illusion of habitual social networks. Such brigades have even employment contracts and are headed by foremen belonging to the same network of recruiters who indoctrinate their subordinates by gradually instilling the idea of “protecting Islam and Muslims” and then, little by little, persuade them to join extremist cells scattered throughout Russia. A research conducted between Samara, Yekaterinburg, Astrakhan shows that radicalization is increasingly becoming an initiative process steered by recruiters rather than a spontaneous spiritual journey. However, some of the respondents (Novosibirsk, Samara, Astrakhan, Krasnodar) wanted to stress their own their own risk appetite. Unfortunately, the impossibility of making direct interviews to radicals makes it difficult to reconstruct their individual and collective motivations.
Contingent (stimulating) factors
For “contributing factors,” we mean the indirect conditions, resources, ideology and carriers, which contribute to the enmeshment of migrants in the tangle of extremism. The Internet has become an essential tool for recruitment and indoctrination, through which fired up sermons, training tutorials and propaganda films are spread all the time. As a part of our research, we downloaded and analyzed some of these videos. The story telling is built on quite refined techniques of propaganda. These movies portray radicals as next door good guys or girls who stand up for “jihad” in a corrupted society. Salient scenes are interspersed with accurately chosen excerpts from the Qur’an. Historical films on the life of the prophet are artfully reassembled with fighting clips of terrorists in order to claim a conceptual continuity and coherence between religious teachings and the necessary violence that will make possible their realization. Described as freedom insurgents, terrorists are portrayed in a positive light that should inspire Islamic solidarity, esteem and emulation seen as prerequisites to the refoundation of the Islamic state as the only entity that could aptly resist the Westerners centuries long attempt to eradicate Islam.
Such videos are preferably forwarded through “WhatsApp” and “Telegram” which are cheap, widespread and relatively difficult to control. In a few cases (in Yekaterinburg and Irkutsk), this material proved enough to attract and convert some youngsters. Other respondents (Samara, Astrakhan) mentioned imams preaching in improvised mosques or through the Internet. Studies have shown that web propaganda and direct recruitment are effective when there is no social control. As a rule, religion is quite a common topic among workmates brigades. Usually, the elderly route the youth toward traditional practice or religious minimalism or indifference, which are very common in Uzbekistan. Instead, a meaningful increase of extremism was registered among Caucasian migrants and adepts are active in proselytizing.
However, the majority of respondents, especially the representative of the Uzbek communities and foremen (Samara, Yekaterinburg, Astrakhan, St. Petersburg) are afraid of the propagation of radicalism to official mosques, which could endanger the dialogue they are carrying out before Russian authorities. They draw attention to unusual forms of prayers and on what they understand as “Wahhabism,” although they have a vague and sometimes naive notion about it. Old laborers resent the strictness of new imams, whether officials or unofficials, who oppose the established habit of postponing ritual prayers at work. Some interviewees (Moscow, Samara, Novosibirsk) mention as a risk factor the ideological closeness or sympathy of many new comers to the Hizb ut-Tahrir, a political organization aiming at re-establising the Islamic Khilafah (Caliphate) or Islamic state to resume the Islamic way of life.
Factors of resilience
The reasons for resilience, as well as risks, cannot be explained by one factor. In this sense, resistance to the influence of radical ideas can be formulated on the basis of many factors
By social factors we mean the adherence to family, and friendly obligations that are characteristic of the Uzbek society, which engender responsibility towards family members and relatives, as well as the strengthening of ties with social networks (brigades, senior colleagues in the work), based on customary traditions of mutual assistance and support.
Moral subordination to the elder is yet another characteristic of Uzbek society, the majority of brigades and separate groups of labor migrants in Russia (organized primarily on the basis of community, relatives, classmates) create stable social microorganisms and represent a safety capable of withstanding various risks, including the prevention from eventual recruitments.
Potentially, individual characteristics like resilience and education represent as many factors of social and personal stability. This implies propensity to integration, the length of stay in Russia, the level and quality of secular education, the introjection of tolerant religious paradigms, and the knowledge of language as the main tool of integration. The superficial and weak knowledge of the respondents of violent extremism and terrorism is striking. In this regard, many leaders of Uzbek communities complain that the clergy (both in Uzbekistan and the Russian Federation) take too lightly the religious basis of extremism, and this causes disorientation among the faithful.
Economic and legal factors.
Polls showed that in cases where a fair system of legalization (for example, Astrakhan) is well established, relationships with law enforcement agencies and migrant services are less corrupted, interethnic tensions are low is extremely low and risks of radicalization are minimal. However, the understanding of the law and personal responsibility, the ability ethnic leaders to establish credible relations with local law enforcement officers makes it possible to overcome the main problems. Another important factor is job offer, the compliance with the laws on job recruitment and a fair salary reduce the risk of radicalization. The confirmed cases of infiltrators among non-radicalized laborers (Moscow, Samara, Astrakhan), show the substantial impermeability of these communities to the lure of religious fanaticism. The hierarchization and, hence, the internal control exercised by foremen represent dramatic deterrents. However, serious inclusive policies enacted by Russian authorities could further reduce the risk.
The motivations for joining radical cells are relatively complex. Migrants put economic factors (unfair salaries, extra money, impoverishment, etc.) on the top of the list. It is over and over again refers to the “ability” of recruiters using different modes of involvement. Besides that, however, they do not neglect idealism, e.g. “protecting Islam and Muslim,” at least at the initial stages of the recruitment and religious propaganda.
To sum up, our researches enabled us to identify 4 risk groups:
1) Young people, active of social networks but socially isolated
2) Illegal migrants (so-called “illegals”) who undergo harsh discriminations;
3)Women, especially single or enslaved by their partners;
4) Religious literates who were involved in conservative groups even before departure
Violent extremism does not really appeal to Uzbek migrants in Russia, which suggested the expression “limited radicalization.” Though limited by traditional background and social control, recruitment and other risks remain, which should lead to develop effective means of prevention. However, the risk of contagion may come from other Muslim ethnicities coming from the Caucasus which are more receptive to the lure of fanaticism.
The majority of Uzbek migrants try to adapt to the existing rules. However, most of them consider Russian laws and procedures too complicated and this paves the way to corruption, abuses and misunderstandings. Although there are no immediate cause-and-effect links between difficulties and radicalization, prolonged and unmotivated delays as well as mismanagements can weaken one’s mental strength. Besides, social and cultural adaptation is much more difficult for “illegal immigrants” who come to Russia outside the established networks. Such groups are most vulnerable to recruitment as it is very easy to take an advantage of their marginality.
The old government of Uzbekistan, for a number of ideological and political reasons, did not recognize labor migration. The current government de facto recognized this phenomenon but does not rush to recognize it politically, leaving the field of propaganda work with labor migrants empty. Therefore, some new emigrants leave the country without proper understanding of the laws of the host country; the expected risks do not feel their connection with the homeland.
This kind of alienation also becomes an indirect factor that stimulates marginalization and openness to recruitment.
Labor migration solves the problem of the demographic surplus labor of Central Asia. It is highly desirable, however, that Uzbek government recognizes the phenomenon of labor migration officially and draws up targeted educational measures for its emigrants.In fact, it is important to expand the work on legal services for labor migrants, using the experience of local diasporas.
It is likewise important to expand mutual cooperation with the countries of the region in developing a unified policy aiming at identifying and neutralizing local networks of extremists. Cooperation should take into account the over-national nature of the problem and, therefore, include a joint effort to regulate labor migration in Russia. In this light, it is highly desirable for the government of the Russian Federation to simplify and, wherever possible, reduce the process of legalization in order to cut off mismanagements and corruptive processes. Lastly, it is important to stop using the problem of labor migration as a “PR tool”, generating “migrant phobia” and refusing to recognize the phenomenon of labor migration as mutually beneficial.
1.Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Royal Institute for Defense Studies (Great Britain), International non-search SearchforCommonGround: “Reasons and motives for the radicalization of ore migrants from Central Asia in the territory of Russia
2.The Royal United Services Institute (RUSI.ORG): Uderstanding the factors contributing to Radicalisatio Among Central Asia Labour Migrants in Russia
3.Russian Center for the Study of Perspectives of Inheritance and “Radicalization among Labor Migrants”
4. Center for the Study of Regional Threats of the Republic of Uzbekistan (CRSS.UZ)
Saida Arifkhanova is a journalist and researcher residing in Uzbekistan.