Cross-border migration probe. Critical study aims to protect migrants rights

15 July 2009

Kazakhstan ranks ninth on the world's list of migrant receiving countries. While exact figures are unknown, estimates range from 300,000, up to one million labour migrants.

The vast majority are from neighbouring Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan; many work in the country without proper registration or employment documents.

Irregular migrant workers are more vulnerable to exploitation, harassment, sub-standard working conditions and other rights violations.

According to International Labour Organization documents, there is consensus that irregular migration is undesirable and must be minimized, particularly as it often puts workers in a position of vulnerability due to a violation of their basic human rights.

Central Asia is a historic crossroads for trade and has long been viewed as a link between Europe, Asia and the Middle East. In the 21st Century, the region has increasingly become a hub for labour migration.

The Republic of Kazakhstan has experienced unprecedented economic growth since gaining independence from the former Soviet Union in 1991. This robust growth, vast oil and gas resources, a construction boom and a small national population of an estimated 15.48 million in 2007 according to The World Bank, have made it an attractive destination for labour migrants, especially from its economically struggling neighbours. Citizens of the former-Soviet republics have easy access to Kazakhstan's labour market. Even with the current economic slowdown, Kazakhstan offers opportunities for income that is lacking across the border.

UNESCO Almaty has responded to this dynamic with activities aimed at helping policymakers and other stakeholders better understand this phenomenon.

"UNESCO works globally to strengthen links between research and policy. And in Central Asia labour migration is a critical area where both research and policy need development," said Laura Kennedy, Programme Specialist, Social and Human Sciences in the UNESCO Almaty cluster office.

Aiming to learn more about the conditions of the migrant worker population in Kazakhstan, UNESCO partnered with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe on the research project "Kazakhstan as a Destination Country for Labour Migrants". The project was initiated in late 2006.

The research project includes the first large-scale survey of labour migrants in Kazakhstan, polling 1,500 migrants in 10 regions of the country.

"In a country the size of Continental Europe, a survey like this is no small endeavour," said Ms Kennedy.

The government of Kazakhstan endorsed the project and provided background data and a team of researchers and experts from three continents worked on the survey and report.

The final report was formally presented to the Kazakhstani government in the spring of 2009 for comments prior to publication.

UNESCO's interest in improved quality and access to information on migration in the Central Asia region also led to a new partnership with the American University of Central Asia (AUCA) in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

UNESCO will work with AUCA to expand its Central Asia Migration Research Network, build its research database and broaden its reach to policymakers and other stakeholders in the region.

As part of this project, the Network will launch a quarterly migration newsletter and expand its existing weekly migration newsfeed to include more English language content to appeal to a global audience.

Ainura Asamidinova, Project Manager at AUCA's Social Research Center is optimistic about the partnership. She said the Electronic Network on Migration in Central Asia is an important tool in better understanding the chaotic migration policies and processes in the Central Asian republics.

"The joint collaboration of the two organizations will make a significant contribution into expanding knowledge of migration processes that can lead to creation of better policies, hence to the contribution into development processes of newly independent countries," said Ms. Asamidinova.

Contact: l.kennedy(at)

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