Russia starts deporting Tajiks in pilot row
Russia on Tuesday started to deport the first group of hundreds of Tajik migrant workers ordered to leave the country in the wake of the controversial jailing of a Russian pilot in Tajikistan.
Russia last week rounded up almost 300 Tajik migrant workers for violating the law, in what appeared to be a tit-for-tat measure after it vehemently protested to Dushanbe about the jailing of the pilot.
A spokesman for the Tajik migration service told AFP a "first group of 11 Tajiks" were being deported from Russia to Tajikistan on Tuesday.
Local media said they had already arrived and had complained of being pawns in a diplomatic battle.
Russia has denied that the migrant crackdown was politically motivated but a foreign ministry source told the Kommersant daily on Saturday that the deportations were part of an "asymmetric response" by Moscow.
A provincial Tajik court last week jailed Russian pilot Vladimir Sadovnichy and Estonian Alexei Rudenko for eight-and-a-half years on charges of smuggling contraband goods. The pilots have vehemently contested the allegations.
In a possible sign that the impoverished Central Asian state wants to defuse the row, prosecutors from the Khatlon region in south Tajikistan where the verdict was delivered said the sentence should be eased.
The regional prosecutors said they had sent a protest to the municipal court in the town of Kurgan-Tyube that the verdict was too harsh, given the suspects were "citizens of countries who are strategic partners of Tajikistan".
Tajikistan is the poorest country to emerge after the collapse of the Soviet Union with a per capita Gross National Income of just $800, according to the World Bank.
This has prompted massive migration especially to Moscow, where tens of thousands of Tajiks work on building sites and in communal services. Their remittances home provide crucial income for the Tajik economy.
According to the Russian migration service, there are 700,000 Tajiks living officially in Russia, a tenth of the country's population of just under seven million.
Russia's chief sanitary doctor Gennady Onishchenko has called for examining the possibility of a complete ban on Tajik migrants, who he said haboured illnesses including HIV and tuberculosis.
"A possible solution in this case is a full ban on the use of labour migrants from this country until at least minimal healthcare is created there," he said, quoted by the Interfax news agency.
He did not provide statistics to back up the claim.
© 2011 AFP