Work was the centre of life in deportation. It was the whole of life in the camps. It was essential both for survival and for integration into the world where the deportees would have to live.
Work in the villages of special resettlers was different from that in the camps. It was usually rural work. In the camps, the prisoners were used mainly to build towns, railways, and factories and to open up and work coal and mineral mines. The distinction between special resettlers and prisoners was not a hard and fast one. For example, there were agricultural camps.
The deportees could survive by doing extra jobs. In the camps, forced labour was 100% of their work. Although they were all subject to extremely hard work, the depths of violence were to be found in the camps. The deportees discovered work that was chosen for them. They were often recruited on arrival, as in a slave market, by kolkhoz chiefs. The line between free or deported workers and prisoners was not always a clear one in areas where forced labour was the rule. Often, when their sentence was over, prisoners would settle locally. The special resettlers often worked alongside the locals in the same working teams and on the same conditions.
Forced labour was one of the essential means of industrial development in the USSR. Despite its poor economic return and extremely high human cost, it was standard in a number of regions of the USSR.