The Armenian city of Gyumri has become a destination for many people from Central Asia. Tourism? In reality they are workers who need a passage "abroad" to obtain a reconfirmation of their visa in Russia
Gyumri, the second Armenian city, has become a unique resort for travellers from Central Asian countries – Tajiks and Uzbeks who have been working in Russia. The employees of the budget guesthouses confirm that they have Central Asian guests almost every day. They stay 1-3 days and leave quickly. These people are actually coming to Gyumri not to rest, but just to get permission to enter Russia.
Gyumri – haven for a migrant worker
“I learned about Gyumri 10 years ago, when I went to work in Russia for the first time. I worked as a labourer there. There were many Armenians, I made friends with one of the guys from Gyumri, he told me about his city, and I told him about Dushanbe”, said Sarkhat, 35, from Tajikistan – he visited Gyumri for the first time in his life.
But Sarkhat visited Gyumri not just for a holiday – he had to. He has left for Russia to work and the law requires him to cross the Russian border every four months to get a residence visa.
“We have to cross the border 3 times a year, it is quite expensive. At first I went home with great pleasure, I visited my family and relatives, but then, when I overcame the feeling of longing and started doing some accounting, I realised that most of the money I was earning was being wasted on the roads”.
“I have been working in Moscow for the last year. When it was time to cross the border, I bought a ticket to Moscow-Khudjand airport, it costs about 16,000 rubles; Moscow-Dushanbe costs more, about 20,000. Khudjand is about 300 km from Dushanbe; it's more affordable and there are several options. I spent about 600 dollars on my way home, and stayed in the homeland for about five days. Well, the journey took a long time and it turned out that I both lost my working days for which I was to be paid and spent a lot of money. That 600 dollars was a half-month salary”, says Sarkhat.
Just 50 dollars to Gyumri and back
At the end of 2016, the Pobeda airline started running regular flights between Moscow and Gyumri. The airline offers budget return tickets, e.g. without luggage, for about 50 dollars. The budget tickets are limited and it is necessary to book in advance.
“Russia-Ukraine relations are strained. In the past, migrant workers would travel to Ukraine for three to four months and then return to Russia; now, they come to Gyumri. Thanks to Pobeda, they can find low-cost tickets; the city is also a budget destination, where you can find cheap overnight accommodation", explains Gor Torosyan, director of the “Gyumri tour” company.
“Many people stay just one night. And one night in Gyumri is not expensive. We have guesthouses where overnight accommodation costs about 6-8 dollars per person. With this amount they can rent a bedroom for 3-5 people, with clean bedding and hygienic items. The bathroom and kitchen with hot and cold water are also included”, says Gor.
“Visitors learn about our guesthouse mainly through Booking.com. Many of them have liked our guesthouse and recommended it to their acquaintances”, says Karen Karlovich, deputy director of the Polish community in Armenia and manager of “Dom Polski” hostel.
The guesthouse used to be the Polish community's office in Gyumri. Since 2016, a part of the office was turned into a hostel – three rooms with ten beds. That year the Pope visited Armenia, and this visit increased the demand for hostels.
“Many Poles came, and there was a problem with overnight stays. The flow of migrant workers had already increased, and other tourists would also come. Now, life in our 'half-dead' city is more lively. The Tajiks and Uzbeks are not picky, they just want the place to be safe”, says Karlovich.
“We offer visitors rooms full of colors of Gyumri. Migrant workers rarely visit us, but our doors are open to everyone”, says the manager of “Chalet Gyumri” guesthouse.
The guesthouse has 3 bedrooms with 9 beds. It is not budget. A bed costs 10,000 drams, the whole room is 25,000 drams for 3 beds altogether.
“Migrant workers don’t stay more than one night. Some come late at night and leave immediately in the morning,” mentions Ani, adding that four guesthouses have already been opened in Gyumri over the past year, as demand is growing.
The development of informal business
“We have some special suggestions for Tajiks and Uzbeks who come for a day or two. We offer them a city tour, but contact with them is complicated, as many are already 'taken'”, mentions Gor. “Though we don’t have proof, there are rumours that airport employees and taxi drivers approach migrant workers quickly and offer overnight accommodation from 800 to 1,500 rubles. They convince them that they will not find a better option. Many even rent a house in the airport area for this hidden business”, says Gor.
“I have come to Gyumri from Moscow. But I'm from Tashkent. Moscow-Tashkent-Moscow costs about 400 dollars. I bought my ticket two months ago and came here for 40 dollars, now I’m going back. In Gyumri, the overnight stay is not too expensive. We came here with 4 friends. Yesterday, as soon as we landed, the taxi driver approached us and offered a flat for 80 dollars for one night. We went and looked at it, and it was a very comfortable place. Today we are going to go back; now we have come out to explore the city”, says Ruslan.
Ruslan notes that many of his friends also rent a house, and they are satisfied.
“We will stay one night; the important thing is to have a clean place and bathroom, to be able to take a shower. Many are concerned with security, but I don’t have such fears, I have no precious thing with me for which I can be plundered or killed”, jokes Ruslan.
In Gyumri not only accommodation is affordable, but also public transport and food, mention the migrant workers visiting Armenia for only one day.
“I have even decided to celebrate New Year in Gyumri. My wife and daughter will come to Moscow; from there, we will get to Gyumri. We will spend the holidays and return. I have calculated that to spend about 5 days here, including the ticket, the three of us need no more than 800 dollars, which is not much at all”, says Ruslan.
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