Far from Putin’s Russia, the Tajik people suffer from sanctions | Russia–Ukraine War

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Dushanbe, Tajikistan – Each month, Malika Abdilloyeva, a domestic helper in Moscow, sends 10,000 to 20,000 Russian rubles ($94 to $188) to Tajikistan to support her two teenage sons, who live with her sister in the capital Dushanbe.

Until recently, Abdilloyeva’s monthly remittances were worth between 1,500 and 3,000 Tajik somoni ($132 to $265). But since the ruble’s value plummeted following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the 43-year-old single mother’s family has only received around two-thirds of the usual amount.

Abdilloyeva, who earns around 35,000 rubles ($329) a month, has no choice but to take on extra work to support her family in the former Soviet republic, a country of 9.5 million of inhabitants which shares borders with Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and China. .

“I will have to find another part-time job because the money I send home is no longer enough for my growing teenagers,” Abdilloeva told Al Jazeera. “They need to eat well and they need school supplies.”

Western-imposed sanctions aimed at punishing Russia for its invasion of Ukraine are hammering livelihoods in Tajikistan, where remittances from Russia account for more than a quarter of gross domestic product (GDP). While the Russian currency has fallen more than 30% since last week, Tajik migrant workers have seen their remittances drop by a third overnight.

“For now, I’m going to save money on all the essentials, hoping my employers will take pity on my situation and help me out,” she said.

Many other Tajik migrant workers in Russia have lost their jobs since Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a “special military operation” against Ukraine, claiming the need to “denazify” the country and protect people from “the intimidation and genocide”.

Migrant workers like Emomali Saidzod haven’t been able to find work since Russia invaded Ukraine [Supplied]

Emomali Saidzod, who worked at a construction site and later as a Yandex courier, returned home to Tajikistan two days after the war began after struggling to find steady work in Moscow.

“There was no point in staying in Russia,” Saidzod told Al Jazeera. “Companies are downsizing and there were no jobs available. I decided to go home.

Saidzod, who earned a monthly salary of between 35,000 and 45,000 rubles in Russia, is the sole breadwinner of his extended family, with his parents, wife and seven-month-old baby girl all dependent on his earnings.

“I’m completely out of work in my hometown now,” he said. “After returning home, I see that the situation is getting even worse here. Flights to Russia since early March are canceled or postponed.

Remittances from Russia are a lifeline for families in Tajikistan, the poorest of the Central Asian republics, where the average monthly wage is less than $250 and GDP per capita is less than half that from Bangladesh.

Following a civil war that erupted following the breakup of the Soviet Union, Tajik citizens began to emigrate en masse to Russia for work, sending back funds that would prove crucial support for economic recovery.

The Russian Federal Migration Service has estimated that more than one million Tajik migrants work in the country. Tajikistan’s labor ministry played down those estimates, saying about half a million Tajiks travel to Russia every year in search of jobs.

About 70% of Tajik families depend on remittances, with the remaining 30% dependent on help from relatives and their own income, according to a 2019 survey by the Research Institute of the Tajik National Bank. In 2019 alone, migrant workers sent more than $2.5 billion to Tajikistan, according to the Central Bank of Russia.

Remittances from Russia to Tajikistan fell in the first nine months of 2021 to $1.3 billion, down nearly 50% from the same period in 2019, according to the Central Bank from Russia, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and tougher migration rules.

Despite the decline, remittances would account for 28% of Tajikistan’s GDP in 2021, according to World Bank data.

For the majority of Tajik households that depend on remittances, a weaker ruble means less money for food and other basic necessities. While the official dollar exchange rate remains relatively stable for now, it is climbing on the black market, raising alarms about the state of the economy and food and fuel prices in the country.

Foziljon Fatulloev
Economist Foziljon Fatulloev says economic conditions in Tajikistan are likely to deteriorate significantly due to sanctions against Russia [Supplied]

Foziljon Fatulloev, a Tajik economist, said it is still difficult to assess the effect of the sanctions because most households received their last remittances before the war started. But he predicted the situation would get significantly worse in the coming weeks as more migrants lose their jobs and see their incomes reduced.

“Tajikistan will suffer from poverty and a sharp increase in unemployment,” Fatulloev told Al Jazeera,

Fatulloev said the country could expect business closures in sectors such as retail and light industry, leading to lower tax revenues and state budget cuts.

“The total amount of Tajikistan’s external debt exceeds $3 billion,” Fatulloev said. “If the Russian economy falls, the crisis will also break out in our country. We will not be able to repay these debts. The only way to minimize the consequences of the crisis in Tajikistan is to adopt the ruble system in Tajikistan by joining the Eurasian Customs Union and exchanging rubles.

Other Central Asian republics are also preparing for the economic fallout from the crisis in Ukraine.

Neighboring Kyrgyzstan is one of the world’s biggest recipients of remittances per capita, with remittances accounting for 30% of GDP last year, according to the World Bank’s Migration and Development Report . Meanwhile, Uzbekistan is Russia’s largest source of migrant workers.

For Abdillaeva, the future looks bleak.

“I’m lost and I’ve lost my self-confidence because the worst-case scenario is yet to come,” she said. “10,000 rubles is even less than 100 dollars. What should I do?”

Abdillaeva’s only hope is that Russia’s war in Ukraine will end soon, although she admits she knows little about the nature of the fighting.

“For now, I’m going to save money on the essentials, hoping that my employers will take pity on my situation and help me,” she said.

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