An estimated 5-6 million people from Central Asia migrate to Russia every year in search of work. The lives of their families depend on remittances that migrants send home, and interdependence between Russia and Central Asia is increasing year by year. This migration flow has significantly impacted the demographic makeup of Central Asian countries, in particular, Kyrgyzstan. According to estimates , one-quarter of Kyrgyzstan’s working-age population (20-50 years old) live and work outside the country and many migrants’ families in Kyrgyzstan are left without people of working age, leaving the younger generation to be raised by their elderly relatives.
Most migrant workers stay in their country of residence illegally, working in industries such as construction, food, agriculture, and manufacturing. Since the majority of migrants leave without the necessary permits, they are deprived of their rights. Many live in unsanitary conditions, work overtime and in hazardous conditions, and are underpaid. Fewer than 10 percent buy health insurance, and—because of a lack of time and money for healthcare—many end up at greater risk for diseases like HIV, hepatitis, tuberculosis, and chronic diseases that could be easily treated if caught early.
I Am a Foreigner documents the journey of these migrants as they travel by train from Central Asia, and illustrates the realities they face upon arrival in their new home. The inspiration for this ongoing project arose from my own experience of my father and brother working abroad in Russia.
Elyor Nematov, was born in Bukhara, Uzbekistan currently works as a freelance photojournalist and conducts documentary photography workshops, training students to produce stories relevant to Central Asia. Previously, he worked as photo editor and as a photographer and reporter for business and sports magazines in Russia, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.
Elyor, participated in many national and international Contests and Exhibitions in Russia and Central Asia. His first personal project and book “Children of Bukhara” was presented in Tashkent in 2008.
In 2012, Elyor received a grant from the Open Society Foundation’s Documentary Photography Project and started his project about Labour Migration From Central Asia. Yuri Kozyrev was the mentor of his project. The project was named “I AM A FOREIGNER”. In 2013 was a finalist of Audience Engagement Grant from OSI Foundations. In 2014 was nominated for LOOKbetween 2014.
Currently Elyor continues to work on a project “I AM A FOREIGNER” creating a series of a photostories and multimedia.
The Open Society Foundations, founded by George Soros, are the world’s largest private funder of independent groups working for justice, democratic governance, and human rights. George Soros opened his first international foundation in Hungary in 1984.
Today, the Open Society Foundations support a vast array of projects in more than 120 countries, providing thousands of grants every year through a network of national and regional foundations and offices.