Migration Governance in Kyrgyzstan: uncertainties and perspectives for the agricultural sector and rural development.

Migration is a dynamic process that constantly changes depending on internal and external conditions. For migration sending and receiving countries, such a process requires flexible approaches and continuous updates to migration governance policies. Kyrgyzstan is a good case where the migration policy work has been significantly affected by such factors.

First, as everywhere else in the world, the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 remarkably affected migration patterns in Kyrgyzstan. Due to the pandemic, Kyrgyz labor migrants living abroad faced challenges ranging from travel restrictions and border closures to medical, housing, and legal issues. Dealing with the unexpected and providing necessary services, such as emergency food and shelter for those stranded at Russian airports put enormous pressure on state resources and migration governance institutions in Kyrgyzstan.

Second, other external events that have occurred in and around the region, such as political turmoil in Kazakhstan and the withdrawal of the US forces from Afghanistan in 2021, as well as Russia’s war on Ukraine in 2022, have brought even more unpredictability to migration trends.

Third, and most importantly, Kyrgyzstan’s own internal political instabilities, which resulted in the overthrow of President Zheenbekov in 2020, subsequent presidential and parliamentary elections, and changes in the Constitution, have seriously stalled the work of the major migration governance institution. Already subjected to many rounds in the past, the state Migration Governance Agency was once again restructured and its representative offices in Russia closed and transferred to the Embassy of the Kyrgyz Republic. The external part of the Agency was transferred to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, while the Ministry of Labor, Social Development, and Migration became the main body responsible for migration governance policy [1].

The AGRUMIG team conducted a number of policy dialogue meetings to find out who was interested in the project’s work.  However, under recent circumstances, it has been a challenge for Kyrgyzstan’s AGRUMIG team to set up a stable community of practice for stakeholders resulting from this engagement. Constant restructuring and frequent government leadership changes created a policy vacuum, meaning it was impossible to initiate meaningful policy dialogue leading to specific outcomes and continuous cooperation. Finding out who is responsible for a given action among the policy stakeholders was one specific difficulty.

In this very dynamic and changing environment, migration policy priorities shifted quickly to urgent public health needs. It was challenging to convince stakeholders during the pandemic, for instance, that they should care about rural development and agriculture and how the AGRUMIG project benefits them.

As a result of these challenges, the team took a different approach to engaging with stakeholders. With the help of an expert consultant on migration, who already had network pool, the team analyzed current gaps in migration governance, developed a draft action plan incorporating the AGRUMIG preliminary research results, and looked for feedback from selected policy stakeholders through bilateral interviews, or requests for a written review of the draft. Working individually with stakeholders, we found, was a faster and more effective way of receiving comprehensive and structured feedback.

Throughout AGRUMIG’S lifetime, we have been posing the question, “What effect does migration have on rural development?” So far, our research has found multifaceted impacts.  One the one hand, migrants have become key actors in supporting communities, especially during the acute phase of the pandemic. On the other, the data points to a “brain drain” effect with shortages of workers key services in rural communities. Our research suggests that there is a need to develop a more holistic approach encompassing agriculture, rural development and migration governance policy. [2]

To address this missing link, our action plan provides recommendations at both conceptual and legislative levels. It is complemented by three other blocks on economic, socio-cultural, and ecological-agricultural levels, focusing on rural development.

Some stakeholders participated by providing written feedback on policies, while others were interviewed and contributed their opinions and ideas. These stakeholders represented current and former public servants, professionals from relevant international organizations, and migration researchers and experts. Below, we quote Mr. Ulan Nogoibaev, Deputy Head of the Migration Council under the Toraga (Speaker) of the Joroky Kenesh (Parliament) of the Kyrgyz Republic, on the draft policy action plan:

 “I would like to note that, in general, I agree with the initiatives indicated in the document. They cover many important socio-economic areas of the population and families” …. I am ready to participate in the implementation of the document”. (Ulan Nogoibaev, June 13, 2022). [3]

Photo: T. The project team member in the process of discussion

Such interest in and evaluation of our action plan has given us hope that the project can serve as an anchor for policymakers to start thinking about gaps in current migration governance policies in Kyrgyzstan that we have identified. Possibly, under his leadership, there can also be set up a small community of practice capable of lobbying for the action plan and AGRUMIG research results via the Migration Council of Parliament. This requires much more networking and outreach beyond the project lifespan.  Therefore, more time and resources are needed. This was highlighted by one of the experts:

“If some part (of the action plan) is implemented, then there will probably be some progress, and I think, a lot will depend on funding” (Beketaeva. J, June 21, 2022)”.  [4]

To support the action plan and substantiate in the eye of policymakers the main claims of the AGRUMIG project, the team plans to publish a policy brief which will conceptualize how rural development and agriculture could be incorporated more effectively into migration policy. Such a conceptualization, along with an action plan detailing implementation procedures and timelines, could serve as a stimulus for migration governance stakeholders to start seeing with greater clarity the relationship between migration. agriculture and rural change in Kyrgyzstan.


[1] Zlobina, T. 2022. Migration Governance in the Kyrgyz Republic – Existing frameworks and current challenges, Report (forthcoming), the OSCE Academy in Bishkek

[2] Asel Myrzakulova, Rural migration in Kyrgyzstan: New Developments in Mountain Areas, Research Paper No.9, August 2022 (forthcoming)

[3] Written communication with U. Nogoibaev and Tatiana Zlobina, June 13, 2022

[4] Written communication with J. Beketaeva and Tatiana Zlobina, June 21, 2022

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