"We can do everything" - stories of labor migrants in Abkhazia
Labor migrants in Abkhazia
Thousands of citizens of Central Asian countries come to Abkhazia for a better life. How did Abkhazia, where salaries are not very high, became a new labor migration destination? The Sukhumi correspondent of JAMnews tried to find out.
If you go out to the Sukhumi embankment at six in the morning, in addition to cyclists and runners, you will be greeted by dozens of guards of cleanliness and order – all of them are employees of the capital’s municipal enterprise “Improvement”. And they are all migrants.
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As they say in the department itself, every time employees are needed, an announcement is made. People who are not local respond.
“The locals have their own reasons – some are ashamed, some think that this is not their level of work, many people are just too lazy, this is really a hard job, employees say.
Mahmud is 45, in Sukhum he is almost like a local – eight years for a migrant is a serious period of residence in one place. Our interlocutor moved to Sukhum from neighboring Sochi, although he did not live there for long – only a couple of years.
“Originally I come from Uzbekistan, from Urgench. I have a wife and children there now. Many guys have moved their families too, but I don’t want to. I am no longer young, how long will I live like this? I still hope that in old age I will live in my homeland, at home”, says Mahmoud.
For this, he has a goal – to save money. It is not difficult to do this in Sukhum, he said. Migrants generally rent small and cheap apartments – five or even six people can live in a two-room apartment for 15,000 rubles [about $ 200] a month.
“I send everything I earn home. What do I need money for? Only for food and roof above my head. This is a penny, I’m thrifty. There, the family is also trying to spend as little as posibleto save up”, says Mahmud and continues to make Sukhum cleaner.
In addition to working for the city administration, Mahmud sometimes receives “private orders”. He says that altogether he can earn 50-60 thousand rubles [about $ 700-800] per month. Such money is considered a lot not only for Mahmud’s homeland but also for Abkhazia as the average civil servant in Abkhazia earns 13,000 rubles [about $ 180].
“We can do everything”
Another well-known “gathering place” for migrants in the city is the square in front of the republican stadium. Those who are not officially employed, but who are ready to take on a new job every day, gather here.
Every Sukhum resident knows that if you need to clean up the courtyard, throw out construction waste, urgently paint the walls, assemble furniture, and, in principle, anything, then go to the stadium.
There, the guys are ready to take on any work – the main thing is to agree on a price. The average rate is 1,000 rubles [about $ 14] per case per person. Conventionally, for two thousand rubles and 40 minutes, workers can free your house from construction waste, and then return “to the base” again, from where they will leave for one or even more orders.
Khalil stands at the stadium almost every day. He says that on a good day he can earn up to five thousand rubles [about $ 70].
“There are different kinds of work – basically, removing, lifting, lowering, breaking or assembling something. To be honest, I don’t always ask the approaching car what to do – I try to get into it right away before the rest. The main thing here is the speed. Well, we already know how to do almost everything”, says Khalil.
Unlike Makhmud, Khalil moved his family to Abkhazia – last year the child had already gone to the Sukhum school. “Children learn quickly. Believe me, my son speaks Russian better than me”, Khalil smiles.
It should be noted that many migrants are also employed in construction work – at almost every facility, private or public, you can meet workers from Central Asia.
True, it is important to emphasize here that in the construction business there are no fewer local people – from general laborers to foremen.
Perfect cleaning ladies
But not only male migrants work in Abkhazia. Women also have a separate market – everything related to cleaning services.
For two thousand rubles [about $ 28], a woman from Uzbekistan or Tajikistan is ready to do a general cleaning of a house or apartment. From you – the means for cleaning, from her – everything else.
In the phone book of almost every housewife there are several numbers of such inexpensive, but high-quality cleaners.
Dilya has been working in Abkhazia for only three years, she combines one job with permanent part-time jobs.
“We cannot, like men, stand for hours and wait for work – we have a different structure. If you have cleaned up well once, then they will call you again and your number will be passed on to a neighbor or relative. And if you work well, there will be a lot of calls. Sometimes I even refuse to work – I just do not have time. I constantly clean in one office for a salary, and all my free time I travel to private houses. I already have grown children, they are in Tajikistan, I support the family”, the woman says.
When asked if she plans to return to her homeland, Dilya only smiles. We will interpret this as “do not mind if …”.
It is believed that the first migrant workers began to come to Abkhazia in 2007 from Moldova, Ukraine, Armenia, Uzbekistan, but the bulk of them are from Russia.
In 2009, a state migration service was created in Abkhazia. From that moment on, the stay of guest workers became legal. They are registered by their passports.
For September 2021, all foreign citizens, except Russians, need a visa, work permit, and medical certificates to legally stay in the republic. As we were informed in the migration service, a multiple-entry visa for a year costs 6,000 rubles [about $ 80], a work permit – another 6,000, a medical report will cost 3,000 (a certificate from the AIDS center, X-rays, etc.).
According to the information of the National Bank of Abkhazia, 596.8 million rubles [about $ 8.2 million] were sent to the countries of Central Asia in 2020, and 366 million rubles [about $ 5 million] during the first six months of 2021.
These figures are published annually in the final reports of the national bank. As soon as they are reprinted by the media, an eternal dispute begins in society – some say that migrants take someone’s jobs, while others retort that if they all leave overnight, there will be no one to sweep Abkhazia.
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