06/09/2010, 00.00
KYRGYZSTAN

Workers’ exodus in Kyrgyzstan

About 800,000 Kyrgyz have left the country; that is 14 per cent of the population. Children are left behind with the grandparents, little money and few opportunities to see their parents. For many young Kyrgyz, hope for a better future lies in leaving the country forever and become Russian.
Bishkek (AsiaNews/Agencies) – About 800,000 Kyrgyz in a population of 5.3 million (14 per cent) have left their native land to work abroad, especially in Russia and Kazakhstan. A whole generation of children are left with their grandparents, who rarely see their parents. This in turn might lead to a demographic collapse. In fact, a 2009 report by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) describes the “emergence of villages inhabited only by elderly and children.”

Kyrgyzstan is one of Central Asia’s poorest countries, with little in terms of energy or natural resources. The world’s financial crisis has been devastating for its economy, increasing poverty.

Many now fear that last March’s successful coup against President Kurmanbek Bakiyev might make the economic situation worse. Experts definitely expect the economy to shrink in the second quarter of this year because of the current political instability.

In the mountain village of Ak-Kiya in Naryn Province, winter lasts for more than half the year. Here, Shirin Kerimbekova, 51, raises two of her grandchildren on her meagre pension. She told the Eurasianet news agency that without the money her sons send on an irregular basis from the Russian Far East, they would not even be able to buy coal for cooking and heating.

“Sometimes, there is not enough food; sometimes they [the children] want candies; and sometimes we don’t have sugar. We live on my pension, which is 1,500 soms [ per month]. My youngest son had to get his passport the other day; I paid 500 soms for that,” she explained.

A 2008 study sponsored by Help Age International found that of those who have migrated in recent years, 38 per cent send their parents help.

For those grand-parents who subsist on small pensions usually do not have enough to support their grandchildren, and often prefer to see them make some money doing odd jobs work even if it comes at the expense of their education.

For example, “If the family doesn’t have coal, for example, the kids will have to miss school and get firewood,” said Mukanbet Ismakeev, 63, a teacher in Ak-Kiya who also helps raise five of his grandchildren. “There are a lot of shortcomings in having grandparents raise children”.

Over the years, Kyrgyzstan’s economic situation has gone from bad to worse rather than better. Job opportunities have become scarce and migrants have had to go to work abroad on a more permanent basis. The result is an ever-increasing number of children growing up without regular contact with their parents.

Experts also point out that many migrants end up taking out Russian citizenship and bring their children to Russia. The result is a net demographic loss for Kyrgyzstan, which loses people and workers, not to mention the large number of divided families.

Darika Mambetova lives in a two-room apartment with her three adolescent grandsons. Her son and daughter-in-law, the boys’ parents, have not been back from Russia since they left two years ago in search of work. Another daughter lives in Kazakhstan.

Though her son sends remittances, “he can’t send money regularly” because “They are collecting money to get Russian citizenship,” she explained. Then, they can take the children, and she will likely just stay in the village.

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