Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Migrant Successes Feed Future Hopes

ARZAMAS, Central Russia -- As experts met in Geneva this week to discuss ways of helping up the millions of displaced people in Russia, a few have shown that they can manage quite well on their own.

Two and a half years ago, when Olga Lipova arrived in Russia, she would wake up every morning wishing she was back in Kazakhstan. Today, she runs a successful tailor's shop in Arzamas, about 150 kilometers south of Nizhny Novgorod.

In the former convent that is Lipova's workshop, fur of all colors lies spread across ancient sewing machines, the walls lined with clothes that Lipova's employees have sewn on commission.

"My entire fate was so unclear -- I had to get Russian citizenship, which was hard, and I thought I was doing nothing but going around in circles. Then one day I woke up and thought, 'That's enough, now it's time to do something.'"

Lipova, 52, went to the Federal Employment Service and enrolled in a course in running small businesses. By October 1994, she had invested all her savings -- a million rubles -- and found eight employees to staff her new shop.

"Everyone laughed at me and said my shop wouldn't last a month on that money," she said. "Now I have more orders than I can fill and I'm too busy to even think about going back."

Today, Lipova has more than 23 employees, almost half of them migrants from Central Asia. As a result, the authorities have helped her with loans and free rent.

The surge in the numbers of displaced people across Russia has caused enormous social and economic strife. Up to 4 million Russian nationals have flooded into the country from other parts of the Soviet Union, while hundreds of thousands of other people of various nationalities have also been forced from their homes by wars, economic hardship and ethnic tension.

But people like Lipova show that the problem may not be insoluble. "There are a lot of people who can't find work at all," said Richard Morris, a consultant at the International Organization for Migration, "These people not only provide an example to them, they also show locals that migrants can be a blessing, rather than just a burden."

In Nizhny Novgorod, Ashot Khotsanian and his brother Amayak hammer away in a workshop that is a far cry from Lipova's former convent. Reeking of paint and chemical fumes, the former arms factory where they have set up their business is home to a blossoming workshop for gaudy gilded frames for beds and pictures. And after 2 1/2 years in Russia, the Armenian brothers have 14 employees and a profitable business.

In many ways they are models for the 33 Central Asian families on the Poya Farm in Lukoyanov, about 250 kilometers south of Nizhny Novgorod.

Anatoly Kornumov, 52, arrived on the farm two years ago from Kyrgyzstan and immediately found work in a sawmill. Earning about 300,000 rubles ($64) a month, he is relatively satisfied with his pay, but hopes to join the farm's Central Asian Association and move on to bigger projects.

The association plans to buy a disused brick plant from the farm's manager. They hope to provide jobs for up to 30 additional migrants.

"We know what it's like to arrive here and have nothing," Kornumov said. "That's why we're willing to work so hard and it's also why we're willing to help each other out."