Many of the millions of internal and irregular (unregistered) external migrants in Central Asia are highly vulnerable, as are their relatives left behind in rural and often economically depressed areas. Unregistered migrants, despite being citizens of the Central Asian countries, are refused their right to health or education, and their right to vote and to receive social benefits. Often with limited education, poor language skills, low levels of knowledge about their legal obligations and rights, migrants regularly experience dire living and working conditions. Many do not have secure housing, they face discrimination and stigmatisation, and are at high risk of being cheated or trafficked by middle-men.
Back in their home communities, family structures are often destabilised. Relatives are left with debt, incurred when paying for the move abroad, facing difficulties capitalising family assets registered in the migrant’s name, and often with very little information about their migrating relatives’ whereabouts and safety.
In Kyrgyzstan, up to 1 million people live as internal migrants. It is estimated that a further 1 million from Kyrgyzstan and 1.5 million from Tajikistan look for work outside their home country – in Russia and Kazakhstan – every year. The joint ACT initiative grew from work that first began in 2006 when, with the support of one ACT member, 15 local Kyrgyzstani organisations came together to secure access to basic services for about 2 million residents and internal unregistered migrants. At the same time, another ACT member was supporting local organisations representing and caring for migrants, poorer rural populations and the most marginalised people.
By combining their local partnerships, expertise and experience, the two organisations adopted a holistic approach to this regional migration programme, calling the combined work ‘Central Asia on the Move’. The aims of the programme are to increase access to basic services for migrants and marginalised rural populations, and to address more effectively the many factors that prevent large population groups from exercising their social and political rights.
Through the joint programme, which now works with 25 local organisations across four countries, ACT champions the rights of internal migrants in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan as well as those of the hundreds of thousands of men and women who leave their own countries every year to earn a living in Kazakhstan or Russia.