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Committee on the Rights of Migrant Workers examines the report of Tajikistan

Committee on Rights of Migrant Workers

4 April 2019

The Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families today concluded its consideration of the second periodic report of Tajikistan on measures taken to implement the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.

Yusuf Rahmon, Prosecutor General of Tajikistan, presenting the report, said that the national plan of action on the implementation of the Universal Periodic Review 2017-2020 provided for the development of a national strategy for the promotion and protection of human rights to 2025.  One of its priorities was the protection of the rights of migrant workers, especially children.  The national development strategy 2020-2030 aimed to, inter alia, improve the productivity and employment of the population and develop legal and social frameworks for labour migration.  Bilateral agreements had been signed with Kazakhstan, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.  Over the last 12 months, more than 484,000 Tajiks had left the country to work abroad; the main destination countries remained Russia, for 96 per cent of the workers, and Kazakhstan for three per cent of them.  During the same period, over 424,000 citizens had returned from working abroad.  Tajikistan had taken up the Committee’s recommendation concerning the regulation of recruitment companies, even if only a small fraction of the Tajik citizens used their services.  The pre-departure training of citizens had increased; in 2018 alone, more than 53,000 citizens had taken the State’s programmes and training activities which helped them find jobs abroad.  Tajikistan had an embassy and five consular offices in Russia, as well as the representative office of the Ministry of Labour, while in Kazakhstan, there was an embassy in the capital and a general consulate in Alma Ata.   

Tajikistan, Committee Experts said in the dialogue that ensued, continued to be a country of origin of migrant workers; by some figures, one fourth of the population lived abroad.  The number of migrant workers was much higher than the official statistics of about 500,000 and could reach, by some accounts, two million, they said.  The Experts probed the system of protection of the rights of migrant workers and members of their families in Russia, a country that was not a party to the Convention and that remained the principal destination for Tajik migrants – 95 per cent worked there - including through bilateral and other cooperative agreements.  There was concern that measures taken remained inadequate to protect these migrant workers from exploitation, discrimination and hate crimes, and to ensure their effective access to justice and remedies.  The Experts remarked on the precarious labour conditions in a number of Middle Eastern countries and urged Tajikistan to ensure that bilateral agreements provided for the full protection of labour rights of migrant workers and their families, and especially the protection from violence and labour exploitation, including slavery.  The Experts discussed at length the situation of foreign workers in Tajikistan, and reiterated the long-standing concern about discrimination, including in due process and equality before the law, continued arbitrary detention of foreigners, and the restrictions on their freedom of movement, as they could only live in certain parts of the country and work in certain sectors of the economy.  Finally, the Experts noted the vulnerable situation of individuals from the former Soviet Union countries who had lost their citizenship and inquired about steps taken to prevent the statelessness of migrant workers and to protect the rights of those already stateless.

In his concluding remarks, Azad Taghi-Zada, Committee Co-Rapporteur for Tajikistan, commended Tajikistan’s political decisions and the concrete efforts to develop the legislation and the mechanisms to regulate migrant labour, and urged more investment into producing clear and reliable data and statistics on migrant workers.

Ahmadou Tall, Committee Chairperson, congratulated the delegation for the high level of the dialogue and above all, for all the efforts taken to implement the Convention and protect the rights of migrant workers, in the country and abroad.

Mr. Rahmon, in his concluding remarks, reassured the Committee that its comments and concluding observations would be fully taken into account and reiterated Tajikistan’s firm commitment to the country’s human rights obligations and to the protection of the rights of migrant workers.

Tajikistan was represented by a delegation that included the Prosecutor General and the Minister of Labour, Migration and Employment.  It also included representatives of the Agency on Statistics, the Presidential Office, and the Permanent Mission of Tajikistan to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The Committee will issue the concluding observations on the report of Tajikistan at the end of its thirtieth session on 12 April.  Those, and other documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, will be available on the session’s webpage.  The webcast of the Committee’s public meetings can be accessed at http://webtv.un.org/.

The Committee will next meet in public at 3.15 p.m. this afternoon to review the initial report of Libya.

Report

The Committee has before it the second periodic report of Tajikistan (CMW/C/TJK/2) and its replies to the list of issues (CMW/C/TJK/Q/2/Add.1).

Presentation of the Report

YUSUF RAHMON, Prosecutor General of Tajikistan, presenting the report, outlined the main steps taken in the context of improving institutional foundations for the protection of migrant workers and their families and said that in order to strengthen the coordination, the interdepartmental Commission, headed by the first Deputy Prime Minister, had been reformed in April 2017, to ensure the implementation of the country’s international human rights obligations.  In 2016, the Ombudsman for the Rights of the Child had been set up as a permanent body and the national plan of action on the implementation of the Universal Periodic Review 2017-2020 provided for the development of a national strategy for the promotion and protection of human rights to 2025.  One of its priorities was the protection of the rights of migrant workers, especially children.

The national development strategy to 2030 had been adopted to ensure its alignment with the Sustainable Development Goals, and it contained, inter alia, a priority of improving the productivity and employment of the population and developing legal and social frameworks for labour migration.  This was the main document for the long-term development of the country and all other programmes were developed within this framework, said the Prosecutor General.  The Presidential Decree of December 2016 approved the national strategy to combat extremism and terrorism 2016-2020, which also contained provisions relevant to migrant workers, in particular to prevent their recruitment by extremists.  The main funding source for the protection of the rights of migrant workers and their families was the Government, and contributions from international development partners and the Tajik diaspora were welcome.  As for the bilateral agreements, Mr. Rahmon said that several had been signed with Kazakhstan, including on the readmission of citizens and on cooperation in the area of migration.  Agreements on the regulation of human resources had also been signed with the United Arab Emirates and with Qatar.

Over the last 12 months, more than 484,000 citizens, of whom 419,000 were men, had left the country to work abroad.  The main destination countries, as before, were Russia for 96 per cent of the workers and Kazakhstan for three per cent of them.  During the same period, over 424,000 citizens had returned from working abroad, of whom 352,000 were men.  Tajikistan had taken up the Committee’s recommendation concerning the regulation of recruitment companies, even if only a small fraction of the Tajik citizens used their services.  Currently, there were 15 State and private recruitment companies that organized the sending of Tajik citizens to work abroad.  The pre-departure training of citizens had increased; in 2018 alone, more than 53,000 citizens had taken the State’s programmes and training activities which helped them find jobs abroad.  Tajikistan had an embassy and five consular offices in Russia, as well as the representative office of the Ministry of Labour.  In Kazakhstan, there was an embassy in the capital and a general consulate in Alma Ata.  The main purpose of the consular network was to provide the protection of the rights of Tajik citizens abroad.  The shipment of the remains of deceased migrant workers was conducted free of charge by the national carrier, however, morgue services, paperwork, and the preparation of the body were not provided by the State.

The report contained extensive information about measures taken in Tajikistan to fight corruption, said the Prosecutor General and stressed that the new electronic visa system, created within the context of the e-government process, had increased the transparency by making it possible to submit an application for a visa or its renewal online.  As for the compliance of the criminal legislation with the Convention in relation to the detention of migrant workers or members of their families, Tajikistan had amended the Criminal Code in 2016, strengthened the fundamental legal safeguards for detained foreign citizens, and changed the manner in calculating the time in detention from the moment of detention.

Questions by the Committee Experts

CAN ÜNVER, Committee Co-Rapporteur for Tajikistan, commended the improvements Tajikistan had made in strengthening the protection of the rights of its migrant workers and foreign migrant workers in the country.  The concern remained about discrimination against foreign nationals in Tajikistan, who continued to experience arbitrary detention, as well as the restrictions on their freedom of movement and on freedom of expression.  They were also not allowed to form trade unions, which were essential to the protection of workers’ rights. 

The Co-Rapporteur reiterated the importance of remittances for the improvement of the living situation of families, but remittances could also cause an inflation in a country’s economy.  What measures were in place to counter this negative effect and to reduce the cost of transfer of remittances which were often very costly?

AZAD TAGHI-ZADA, Committee Co-Rapporteur for Tajikistan, said that the replies by Tajikistan to the list of issues did not provide a full picture, particularly concerning statistics.  For example, the State party said that some 500,000 Tajiks emigrated for work, while other sources claimed the figure to be much higher.  Recognizing the difficulties involved in producing reliable data, the Co-Rapporteur asked the delegation to provide more accurate figures that could help the Committee understand the trends.  The Co-Rapporteur welcomed the amnesty for 200,000 foreign workers in Tajikistan and asked about the state of play for the others in terms of regularizing their stay.

Mr. Taghi-Zada welcomed the strengthening of consular services, particularly in Russia, and asked for disaggregated data on inquiries put forward by migrant workers to the consulates that would demonstrate the main issues that they were dealing with.  How many cases of deaths of migrant workers and members of their families had been recorded and what steps were being taken to investigate and prosecute those responsible?  What concrete measures were being taken to protect migrant workers’ right to life?

The labour conditions in the Middle Eastern countries were rather tough and in a number of countries migrant workers could end up in slavery, therefore Tajikistan must ensure that its bilateral agreements with countries in the Middle East guaranteed the protection of the rights of migrant workers and members of their families.  What provisions to that effect had been included in the agreements with Qatar and the United Arab Emirates?

Tajikistan continued to be a country of origin of migrant workers, and by some figures, one fourth of the country’s population lived abroad.  Ninety-five per cent of those or two million lived in Russia alone and this number could be even higher.  The Committee was concerned that measures to protect their rights and ensure access to justice were insufficient; there were cases of labour exploitation of Tajik workers, and hate crimes against Tajik migrants in Russia.  The delegation was asked about specific measures taken to protect Tajik workers in countries that were not a party to the Convention, and the concrete steps taken to legalize their status, ensure the right to pay, and protect other workers’ rights. 

The long border with Afghanistan made Tajikistan a country of destination for the many Afghans and there were many Tajiks who crossed over to Afghanistan.  The two countries had close ties and a shared culture, the experts remarked, and asked the delegation to explain the relationship and how Afghans were treated, as refugees, migrants or guests.

There was a need for a special focus on women migrants who were victims of trafficking, the Experts said, and asked about the system in place to provide for their identification, support and protection.  The fact that so many men migrated abroad raised questions about the situation of women who were left behind, the Experts remarked, and asked about the protection of women from gender-based violence and measures taken to prevent polygamy.  What was the situation of the women domestic migrant workers, particularly in Russia and Qatar, and were there measures to protect them from violence and exploitation and to ensure that they could always come back to their country of origin?

The delegation was asked about the status of the national human rights institution and whether it monitored the situation of migrants.  More information was requested about the status of the Convention in the domestic legal order, and the training provided to law enforcement officers and border guards on the Convention and on the identification of migrants, including victims of trafficking.  Were there any scientific or academic centres which provided analysis on the many migration-related questions? 

Replies by the Delegation

In response to questions on the membership in trade unions, the delegation said that it was regulated by the law on foreign citizens in Tajikistan which guaranteed the same rights to create a social association and join a trade union.  Equally, Tajik migrant workers abroad joined associations and labour unions.  The delegation disputed the figure of two million Tajiks working in Russia and said that according to Russia’s authorities, 1.18 million Tajiks had entered the country in 2018 but not all were labour migrants.  The survey of the labour force conducted in Tajikistan showed that more than 700,000 Tajikistan citizens were in labour migration abroad, 95 per cent of them in Russia and three per cent in Kazakhstan.  The delegation stressed that there were always discrepancies between figures and data which was also due to different ways of calculating the numbers.

There was an automated system that provided aggregated data for the number of people entering and leaving the country.  In 2017, a total of 2.67 million persons had entered Tajikistan and of those, 1.5 million were citizens.

Tajikistan had bilateral agreements with Russia, Kazakhstan, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar; those agreements addressed the rights and interests of migrant workers, labour contracts with employers, provided for the creation of bilateral working groups for the implementation of the agreements, and also addressed the issue of remittances.  The bilateral agreement with Qatar was undergoing the ratification process, the delegation, said and stressed that this agreement, like any other, provided for the protection of the nationals working in this country. 

There was close cooperation with Russia’s authorities on the protection of the rights of migrant workers from Tajikistan and on curbing irregular migration.  Prompt action was taken whenever a rights violation was reported, reassured the delegation.  Since Russia was not a party to the Convention, an intergovernmental agreement on the protection of the rights of nationals had been signed with Russia in 2004 and a bilateral group had been set up to protect the rights and interests of Tajik citizens in Russia.  The protection of the rights of migrant workers in Russia was also provided through Tajik consular services.
 
Migrant workers sometime faced difficulties in enrolling their children in schools in Russia, since all children had to submit a stay permit for the whole duration of school year, which many did not have since migrant workers could only stay in the country for 90 days without a permit, renewable.  This issue was being taken up in the discussions with the Russia’s authorities and Tajikistan had suggested that the period of stay without a resident permit be extended to 180 days to allow the children to enrol in school.

Women migrant workers were at risk of gender-based violence, including at the hands of law enforcement officials, while pregnancy presented an additional difficulty in terms of accessing adequate health services or proper nutrition.  The Government had conducted a targeted migration policy which took into account the gender aspects of migration, including abandoned migrants’ spouses.

Ten recruitment agencies were currently functioning and operated on the basis of a license provided by the Government.  All migrant workers had the right to a contract.  The National Institute for Strategic Studies also studied migration issues. 

The national development strategy 2020-2030 also took into account the Sustainable Development Goals, which aimed to promote the socio-economic situation in the country, particularly in the rural areas, and to increase employment and productivity.  The law on State services had been enacted to streamline and consolidate services provided to the people.  In 2016 and 2017, around 17 million Tajik Somoni had been allocated for socio-economic development and 80 per cent came from the national budget.  All projects had to undergo the gender testing process.   

In 2012, remittances represented the equivalent of 40 per cent of the gross domestic product and in 2017 they represented 15 per cent; the fall in the proportion of remittances was due to the increase in the gross domestic product.  The peak in remittances had been reached in 2013 and 2014, which coincided with the peak outgoing migration, and had reached $ 3.7 billion in 2013 and $ 4.2 billion in 2014.  Migrant workers could send the money using various financial services, including the SWIFT network; it was also possible to send money after calling the bank, which the family in Tajikistan would then withdraw from an ATM machine, using a special card, without charge.

In 2017, the Food and Agriculture Organization had conducted a study into male migration and the employment of women in order to understand the implications for food security and agricultural production.  The study had found that 68 per cent of migrants were married and over 66 went abroad looking for work opportunities.  The households usually contained older children and remittances were used to cover education, health and construction costs.  A number of women also used remittances to start a business, and thus opportunities for women were expanded.

There were over 6,000 foreigners in Tajikistan, whose status, rights and duties were defined by the law on foreigners.  They were issued with work permits which contained terms and conditions in line with the contract signed with the employer.  Their labour rights were protected on an equal footing with national workers.  There had been no complaints of discrimination against foreign migrant workers in Tajikistan.  There was no discrimination against migrant workers in the right to participate in associations and trade unions, which they could enjoy on an equal footing with their national counterparts.  In 2017, State officials had identified 319 cases of offences committed by foreign migrant workers, and 52 had been expelled.  In 2013, 88 foreigners had been expelled, 149 in 2014, 102 in 2015, 85 in 2016, 73 in 2017, and 108 in 2018.

As for the murder of Tajiks abroad, the national law enforcement services and the Prosecutor General submitted requests to the law enforcement service of the country where the death occurred and the diplomatic missions monitored the investigations.  In 2012, 62 Tajiks had been killed abroad, 94 in 2013, 59 in 2014, 49 in 2015, 56 in 2016, 49 in 2017, and 27 in 2018.

To tackle the problem of trafficking in persons, Tajikistan had set up the inter-departmental commission whose task was to define the pillars of State policy on combatting human trafficking and develop recommendations to enhance the effectiveness of the relevant authorities in combatting the crime.  Similar commissions had been set up in all the regions of the country, and their work was coordinated by the central commission.  Under the national action plan to combat human trafficking in Tajikistan 2016-2018, a great deal of work had been achieved and the rate of human trafficking had dropped. 

Victims of trafficking in persons received significant support and comprehensive psychological and other forms of assistance, often delivered by non-governmental organizations according to State guidelines.  In 2013, five Tajik nationals who were victims of trafficking had been repatriated from the United Arab Emirates, eight in 2014, five in 2015, six in 2016, and four in 2018.  Child victims of human trafficking received education on a mandatory basis, including in secondary schools and colleges.

Responding to questions on the relationship with Afghanistan and the status of Afghans in Tajikistan, the delegation said that their legal status was governed by the law on foreigners.  In 2018, there were over 3,000 Afghanis in Tajikistan, of which more than 2,500 had the status of refugees.  Refugees did not have to apply for a stay permit.  There were quotas on work permits; in 2017, a total of 427 work permits had been issued.  The quota for 2019 was 550 and to date, some 80 permits had been delivered.

Tajikistan had signed an agreement on cooperation in the field of social protection with Russia, it was a reciprocal agreement which covered both the Tajiks in Russia and Russians in Tajikistan.  As for the Tajiks in Saudi Arabia, the delegation said that one person had reported rights violation by her employer; the person was repatriated and charges had been brought against the director of the recruitment company which had sent her to Saudi Arabia illegally. 

Over 200,000 Tajiks had been banned from re-entering Russia due to the violation of migration procedures.  Russia had declared an amnesty in 2018 and many Tajik migrant workers had resolved the bans and managed to regularize their work situation.  The Government of Tajikistan continued to work with Russian authorities on resolving the outstanding cases.  As a result of the ban on re-entry, a great number of migrant workers had returned to Tajikistan and the Government had put in place a programme for their employment, including through the construction of 19,000 different infrastructure facilities which were built partly by labour migrants who were banned from re-entering other countries.  In addition, Tajikistan had created 100,000 new permanent jobs

Polygamy was banned.  The birth of children of migrant workers abroad was registered by the Tajik consulates. 

Tajikistan was a mountainous country rich in minerals and hydro-resources.  Tajikistan produced 0.2 per cent of the world’s aluminium, while cotton production of up to 440,000 tons per year, made up 2.1 per cent of the total gross domestic product.  Unfortunately, most of the cotton processing was done abroad at the moment and the Government was planning to increase domestic processing capacities and create jobs.

As for the status of the Convention in the domestic legal order, the delegation said that all international treaties came into force after their ratification and were implemented alongside the national laws.  In 2008, Parliament had adopted the law on the Ombudsman for human rights and the Office had been set up in 2009 and had been accredited with B status under the Paris Principles.  The Government was working on obtaining the A status, although there was much to do to achieve that goal.  In 2016, the Ombudsman for the Rights of the Child had been set up.  The two institutions had compiled a national action plan for human rights 2016-2020, and the promotion and protection of the rights of migrants and their families was one of the eight priorities.

The goal of the consular services was to uphold the protection of the rights and interests of citizens abroad, and in particular the correction and reparation of rights violations in host countries.  Consular offices provided identification and other documents necessary for the rights protection, and also served as notaries and civil registry offices.  The number of consular offices in host countries was usually not sufficient to respond to all the needs.  During the reporting period, two additional consular offices had been opened in Russia and three honorary consuls had been nominated.

Questions by Committee Experts

In the next round of questions, the Experts asked the delegation to specify the content of bilateral agreements signed with Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, specifically the right to pay and family reunification.  What provisions were in place in agreements with Russia to support family reintegration of migrant workers?  How many re-admission agreements had been signed and with which countries, both for the Tajik nationals and for citizens of other countries? 

On returned migrants, the delegation was asked to elaborate how they were re-integrated into the society and the possibilities and incentives in place to enable them to set up new enterprises and contribute new skills to the national economy and the country’s development.  How was their pension calculated and how was the working experience abroad taken into account?

The Committee commended Tajikistan for enabling the diaspora and its migrant workers to participate in the development of the country not only financially but also through their participation in elections and their contribution to the political institution building.  Could migrant workers vote through consular offices?

The delegation was asked to provide data on foreign workers in Tajikistan, how many were there, from which countries, and how many were in irregular situation.  The Committee was concerned about the situation of individuals from the former Soviet Union who had lost their citizenship and who risked incurring administrative sanctions for their irregular stay in the country.  What measures were in place to prevent the statelessness of migrant workers and to protect the rights of those already stateless?

On human trafficking, the Experts inquired about the modalities of human trafficking in Tajikistan, the main nationalities of origin of migrants who were victims of human trafficking in Tajikistan, and data on the prosecution of the perpetrators of this crime.

A Committee Expert noted with concern the discrimination against migrant workers in Tajikistan, including in due process and equality before the law since the Code on Administrative Procedures defined the period of only one day for foreigners to appeal an administrative decision, while nationals were given five days.  The delegation was asked to inform on a protocol that foreigners could use to contest expulsion decisions and uphold the principle of non-refoulement.  Furthermore, migrants could only live in certain parts of the country and work in certain sectors of the economy – what was being done to guarantee the right of free movement and access to all areas of the economy on an equal footing with nationals? 

CAN ÜNVER, Committee Co-Rapporteur for Tajikistan, called attention to an incident in 2017 at a Russian border point when some 150 Tajik workers returning to Russia had been detained and kept for a period of time in inappropriate conditions, and asked about measures Tajikistan had taken in response to ensure the full protection of its citizens.

The Experts raised again the issue of discrepancies in the number of Tajik migrant workers in Russia, noting that some 480,000 Tajiks had entered the country in 2017 using their migration cards.  How was the national human rights institution establishing a relationship and cooperation with the national human rights institutions in big cities in Russia?

Replies by the Delegation

Responding to questions on trafficking in persons, the delegation said that in 2018, 12 criminal cases against 14 persons had been opened and of those, six criminal cases had been referred to courts; sentences – ranging between four and 10 years of imprisonment - had been handed down in all those cases.  In 2019 so far, one case against one person had been initiated.  As for the victims of trafficking in persons, there had been 30 in 2018, all women, while in 2019, there were three victims, also all women.

In order to enable Tajik migrants to vote, the consular and diplomatic services had organized 34 electoral districts in Russia and more than 90 per cent of Tajik migrant workers in this country had voted.

Bilateral agreements contained a provision guaranteeing annual leave to migrant workers to facilitate family reunification and contacts; the annual leave and the travel were paid for by the employer.  Bilateral agreements also contained the principle of equal pay for the work of equal value, thus guaranteeing gender equality in wages.  Currently, the existing bilateral agreements did not contain pension provisions.  The Government was working on developing an agreement with Russia on the organized recruitment of Tajik workers, as well as on an agreement on the exchange of data, which would strengthen the protection of the rights of migrant workers.  Such an agreement had already been signed with Kazakhstan.

In order to receive a pension, migrant workers needed an intergovernmental agreement and such an agreement was not yet in place between Tajikistan and Russia, where over 90 per cent of Tajik migrants worked.  The Government continued to pursue this issue at all platforms and in all contacts with the Russian authorities.

The drop in the number of Tajik migrant workers going to Russia could be explained by the job creation in Tajikistan, especially in the construction industry, as well as by a change in migration policies in Russia which had entered into effect in 2015, the volatile value of the Russian ruble, and the increased cost of working in this country.

The Tajik Human Rights Ombudsman had concluded a memorandum of cooperation with the national human rights institution in Russia to work together on the protection of the rights of citizens, including migrant workers.  Furthermore, countries in the region had signed the Dushanbe Declaration which provided for the creation of the Council of Human Rights Ombudsmen for Central Asia.

Concluding Remarks

AZAD TAGHI-ZADA, Committee Co-Rapporteur for Tajikistan, commended Tajikistan’s political decisions and the concrete efforts to develop the legislation and the mechanisms to regulate migrant labour.  There was a need to invest more energy into producing more clear and reliable data and statistics, to align the concepts and legal definitions with Russia in order to generate the correct number of nationals migrating for work to this country.  In concluding bilateral agreements, particularly with some countries in the Middle East whose labour legislation was very austere, Tajikistan must ensure that the rights of its migrant workers were protected from infringement and violation, including the threats to life, physical integrity, and dignity.

AHMADOU TALL, Committee Chairperson, congratulated the delegation for the high level of the dialogue and above all, for all the efforts taken to implement the Convention and protect the rights of migrant workers, in the country and abroad.

YUSUF RAHMON, Prosecutor General of Tajikistan, reassured the Committee that its comments and concluding observations would be fully taken into account by the Government.  Tajikistan remained committed to its human rights obligations and to the protection of the rights of migrant workers.

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