Kazakhstan: Population resettlement programmes declared a failure

Kazakhstan: Population resettlement programmes declared a failure
Few are prepared to make the move up north. / Kazakhstan government website
By Eurasianet February 29, 2024

A senior politician in Kazakhstan has admitted that state programmes designed to encourage people living in the populous south to relocate to the north of the country, to areas bordering Russia, have proven a failure.

In a speech to the upper house of parliament last week, Senate speaker Maulen Ashimbayev said draft legislation now under consideration will consider new incentives to increase labour mobility.

A decade’s worth of the government policies that Ashimbayev says have fallen short have focused on one overriding problem: while densely populated cities in the south persistently attract large numbers of new arrivals, thereby compounding labour surplus there, fewer people are prepared to move to the north, the site of some of the country’s most important industrial concerns.

One initiative, Serpin-2050, has been in place since 2014 and provides young people from the southern regions with free training in education, and technical or agricultural sciences as an incentive to relocate to northern regions.

Another, Enbek, helps unemployed people in the south find jobs and provides money toward paying rent and utility bills in return for making the move. Officials say more than 32,000 people moved north and east under the programme between 2017 to 2021.

But even that figure is less impressive than it seems. Half of those people were classified as disabled and ineligible for employment.

In February 2023, the Labour and Social Protection Ministry’s Migration Committee announced that proposals were in place to provide applicants willing to move up to four million tenge ($8,800) toward the cost of buying a new home.

Government demographers have identified troubling long-term trends in population patterns in Kazakhstan. According to forecasts from 2021, while the population of northern regions of Kazakhstan was on track to decrease by 600,000 before 2050, the population of southern regions, even when excluding the cities of Almaty and Shymkent, was poised to increase by 1.6 million.

Ashimbayev provided a sobering update.

“Over the past few years, the population of the North Kazakhstan, Pavlodar and Kostanay regions has decreased. In North Kazakhstan, according to the data I have seen, there is a 23 percent drop in population in recent years. In the Pavlodar region, it is an 8 percent population decline,” he was quoted as saying by Zakon.kz news website.

Ashimbayev spoke about corollary efforts to maintain population levels in rural areas.

He attributed the creation of 12,000 jobs in rural locations to the system of micro-credits handed out as part of the government’s Auyl Amanaty, or Rural Heritage, programme of microcredits. At the same time, the money available for that initiative is not always being used in a timely fashion, he said.

This article first appeared on Eurasianet here.