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Allow Migrants to Work, UN Says

Russia and its Central Asian neighbors could benefit equally from legalizing migrant labor flows into Russia and removing other barriers to economic cooperation, the United Nations Development Program said in its first comprehensive study on the five Central Asian countries.

The UNDP report, to be published Wednesday, also calls on Russia to use its political influence next year as chair of the Group of Eight to put the global spotlight on Central Asia, where 44 percent of the population lives below the poverty line.

Setting legal quotas for migrant workers would help Russia to combat its demographic crisis while regulating a notoriously nontransparent migrant labor market, Jacek Cukrowski, a co-author of the 300-page report, said Tuesday. Central Asia has great economic potential despite its current poverty and has gained in geopolitical importance since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, Cukrowski said.

The report, compiled over the course of 18 months from interviews, surveys and contributions by 70 economists and academics, says Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan could double their gross domestic product by 2015 -- but only if they work together to establish effective cross-border cooperation. Russia's role as an economic pacesetter for Central Asia will be vital to the future prosperity of the five countries, although the report slams Russia's apparent lack of concern about encouraging democratic progress there.

"Russia has a very particular relationship with Central Asian countries in almost all respects," Martha Ruedas, deputy director of the UNDP regional office for Eastern Europe and the CIS, said Tuesday. Russia could use its influence as head of the G8 next year to put the world's focus on Central Asia in much the same way that Britain has this year to secure a debt reduction deal for Africa, Ruedas said.

Russia's most recent interventions in Central Asia, however, have focused on gaining political leverage with authoritarian leaders there by discouraging Ukrainian-style revolutions, and on increasing its military presence at the expense of the U.S. military, which last month pulled out of its base in Uzbekistan over a dispute about human rights in the country. Ruedas said the report's main conclusions and recommendations were presented at a meeting in Bishkek last month of UNDP's Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation program, which includes four of the five countries but not Turkmenistan.

One major issue Russia has yet to address sufficiently is how to regulate labor migration from Central Asia, Cukrowski said. Since Russia signed an agreement with Tajikistan in October 2005 to allow several thousand Tajiks legal employment, there has been little further progress, he said.

Source: The Moscow Times

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