Central Asian migrant workers choose Turkey over Russia - analysis

Central Asian migrant workers are increasingly ditching Russia and heading to Turkey for work, the Diplomat online international magazine wrote.

The two main reasons for their preference for Turkey was the devaluation of the Russian rouble stemming from Western sanctions and the discourse on the connection between Islamic State (ISIS) terrorists and labour migrants which has resulted increased raids on Central Asian nationals in Russia, the article said.

Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan number among the top 10 countries of citizens holding work permits in Turkey, according to the Turkish Interior Ministry, with Uzbekistan ranking among the top five countries whose nationals were arrested as illegal immigrants in Turkey.

Ankara established visa-free regimes in an effort to expand trade and the movement of people in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union, the article said, noting that the Turkish government has implemented less restrictive regulations than Moscow.

Central Asian labour migrants are not required to register with any agency for the duration of their legal stay in the country, whereas in Russia migrants become victims of the corruption present in government institutions, it said.

There is also a cultural allure for Central Asian migrants in Turkey as the country is more receptive to migrants from Central Asia than from neighbouring Arab countries.

That is not to say the migrants are without challenges.

“The public attitude toward migrants has become increasingly cautious since ISIS-recruited individuals carried out a terrorist attack at Istanbul Ataturk airport in 2016. While conflicting reports exist, many identified the attackers as citizens of Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Russia. A few months later, another Uzbek national fired on people celebrating the New Year at a club in Istanbul. The attack resulted in 39 deaths. These incidents prompted public debate on whether Turkey should maintain its visa-free regimes with Central Asian countries whose citizens were engaging in terrorist activities on Turkish soil,’’ the article said.

Despite such developments, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan signed a decree in November to extend the period of visa-free stay for citizens of Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. The main beneficiaries are likely to be Uzbek migrant workers in Turkey, a community registered around more than 30,000.

Erdoğan’s government has pursued accommodating policies toward migrants from Central Asia, the article said, pointing out however that with nearly 3.8 million unemployed Turks in the country, the policies are sure to attract more criticism in the future.