An invisible force

IOM Photo Project spotlights Migration in Central Asia

"Sending your relative for labour migration is almost the same fear and anxiety as sending a child to war. You never know whether a person will return healthy, or whether they will return alive at all.”

Alimzhan Zhoroboev, IOM PhotoStory judge

One in four Central Asians are migrants, meaning ten million people are on the move, often irregularly, in search of work. High unemployment, growing populations and low wages propel people from Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, who face exploitation, trafficking, and human rights abuses.

In order to raise awareness of migration in the region, and counter the xenophobia and intolerance that feed these abuses, IOM, the UN Migration Agency, the Government of the United States and the Government of Kazakhstan, have organized a photo exhibition which is currently travelling in several Central Asian capitals.

The exhibition showcases more than 40 photographs and texts, submitted by Central Asian artists, photographers and university students, as well as stories shared by two Central Asian writers, Dr. Nafisa Abdullaeva and Yermek Tursunov.

"Kazakhstan is the most economically developed country in the region and is a host country for citizens of some republics of the region; therefore, our task is to draw the attention of the society to the fact that migrants are not just a labour force. They are not some measurable economic unit but primarily are human beings that have rights and need be treated with dignity,” noted Timur Shaymergenov, Deputy Director, Library of the First President of the Republic of Kazakhstan and Head of the Nazarbayev Analytical Center, Astana.

The IOM exhibition is the outcome of an Open Call to Artists, Photographers and University Students from Central Asia earlier this year. A five-member jury convened decided on three winners from the Artists/Photographers’ category (Elyor Nematov, Didor Sadulloev, Diana Mindubayeva) and two winners from the University Students category (Almazbek Duyishebaev and Rakhat Sagynbek Kyzy).

One of the judges, Alimzhan Zhoroboev, remarked: "Sending your relative for labour migration is almost the same fear and anxiety as sending a child to war. You never know whether a person will return healthy, or whether they will return alive at all.”

Meanwhile, Gulmira Isabaeva, Director of the Kasteyev Museum in Almaty, reflected: "The problems that the photographers show in their work are understandable and familiar to us. We selected the winners based on the depth of reflection on the problem, the aesthetic approach, and the professionalism."

The PhotoStory project is supported under IOM’s Central Asia regional migration project Addressing Migration Movements in Central Asia through Capacity Building, funded by the Government of the United States (PRM-PIM) and the Government of the Republic of Kazakhstan.

Sadbarg Gazieva, 38, sees more in the photographs than most of the other 100 or so people at the exhibition in the American University, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

She looks longer, more intently, at the pictures of the shuffling, awkward people caught in time. The faces peering out of train windows, the cold, pinched faces on a building site, the exhausted faces lying on wooden bunks. The police shakedowns. She sees her life.

She went to Moscow, to look after a disabled man, but was ripped off from pillar to post. “The money rarely arrived, it was always ‘it’s coming, it’s coming’ but we rarely got any.”

After two years this mother of four paid a visit home to Kulyab, Tajikistan. When she tried to get back into Russia she found she was on a blacklist that has prevented hundreds of thousands of migrant workers re-entering the country.

Perhaps it was a mixed blessing.

“I can’t find anything good to say about my two years in Russia. No one ever said anything mean to me but I spent most of the time crying. These pictures [at the exhibition] portray reality. They remind me of fragments of my life”.

Now she has a new ambition. To set up a sewing cooperative with 20 of her friends, with IOM support.

“I’m happy and grateful to be back. My memories are still too vivid.”

(Photo: Joe Lowry/IOM 2017)

An Invisible Force (Click to play). A montage of the winning and commended entries from IOM's PhotoStory project.

"This project is a collection of over 40 photographs and pieces of writing, selected by a distinguished jury which tells an important story of migration in and from Central Asia," said Tatiana Hadjiemmanuel, IOM's sub-regional coordinator in Central Asia.

"Most people see migrant workers yet don't really see them They don't interact with them on a human level very often; they simply provide services and do the jobs that others don't want to do. This project visualizes them as an Invisible Force; people who have a huge impact on the communities in which they live, and on the communities they have left behind. Hopefully we can convince people that migrants are more than just workers, they are part of their communities and they deserve the same rights as everyone else."

More photographs from the exhibition "Migrants - An Invisible Force in Central Asia". Credits: Elyor Nematov, Didor Sadulloev, Diana Mindubaeva, Almazbek Duyishebaev, Rakhat Sagynbek Kyzy, Nargiza Bolotbekova, Abdulatif Gafforov, Yulia Galushina, Elena Gritsyk, Kiril Kartashov, Ruben Kazaryan, Nurkyz Nurmanbetova, Zitta Sultanbayeva, Maksud Sultanov, Lyailya Turilbekova, Danil Usmanov, Dulat Yesnazar