To give only one of a thousand examples, without Central Asian migrant workers, there would be almost no one left to do the heavy and, sometimes, dangerous work of clearing freshly fallen snow from rooftops and pavements during the winter. February 5, 2018, Petersburg. Photo by the Russian Reader
Fists and Epaulettes: Xenophobia and Corruption Making Russia Less Attractive to Central Asian Migrant Workers
Vyacheslav Polovinko and Yulia Reprintseva, with Madina Kuanova
February 5, 2018
Novaya Gazeta continues to investigate the lives of migrant laborers in Russia. In our last issue, we discussed the magnitude of the corruption faced by immigrants when they apply for resident permits and work permits (“Luck and Labor,” February 2, 2018). However, even when migrant workers finally obtain these papers, their lives in Russia are not made any easier.
Police, Open Up!
In the run-up to New Year’s 2018, detectives from the Perovo and Kuntsevo police precincts in Moscow detained 520 migrant workers. All of them were taken to a police station, where they were forced to stand outside in the cold from six in the evening to two in the morning. According to Valentina Chupik, head of the human rights organization Tong Jahoni (Morning of the World), only those who gave the police 10,000 rubles [approx. 140 euros] each were released. The police said they were collecting money “for celebrating the holiday.”
The police regularly hold such “celebrations” for migrant workers. In a ranking of offenses against immigrants, the police take first place with a large margin (86% of all complaints). Most often, the police extort money during groundless document checks.
“In Russia, the attitude is he is an Asian, so he’ll give us money,” claims Chupik.
In police stations, up to twelve migrant workers are held in seven-meter-square cells for forty-eight hours and not allowed to go to the toilet. Police sometimes assault them. In October 2017, according to human rights activists, the officers at Perovo and Novogireevo precincts in Moscow beat up 39 people. It was a tough month, apparently.
“Volunteer work days” are another police practice. According to human rights activists, migrant workers were forced to repair a police station in the Moscow suburb of Mytishchi on April 21, 2017.
The migrant workers complain, but to little effect. In 2016, Valentina Chupik filed 6,232 complaints with various police internal affairs departments in Moscow and Moscow Region, but only four of them were passed up the command chain for further review. Meanwhile, the system for expelling migrants on the basis of police complaints operates without fail. In 2016 (there is no data for 2017), Moscow courts expelled over 14,000 migrant workers from Russia for living somewhere other than their registered domicile. They expelled almost 12,000 migrant workers for being in public without their papers on them.
“The main problem is the right the police have accorded themselves to check the papers of migrant workers for any reason,” says Chupik.
“Yes, they do have this obligation, but only when a migrant worker is involved in a criminal case,” she says.
According the Interior Ministry’s latest orders, even a neighborhood police inspector can check someone’s immigration status. He can write the person up for a nonexistent violation, which is immediately entered into a special data base. Two violations are sufficient cause for deportation from hospitable Russia, explains Chupik.
Curiously, at the same time, migrant workers are far from the most dangerous social group in Russia, formally speaking. Moreover, the number of crimes committed by migrant workers has been steadily declining, which has been noted even by the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office. As reported by Kommersant, according to the Prosecutor General, foreign nationals and stateless persons committed 41,047 crimes in Russia in 2017, which was 6.6% fewer than in 2016. In November of last year, Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev mentioned an even earlier nine-percent drop in crimes committed by migrant workers when presenting the new immigration policy. But what the top brass has said is not digested fully and immediately by rank-and-file police officers.
Valentina Chupik, head of Tong Jahoni
State agencies and the police do not hate migrant workers because they are so despicable. The authorities pretend to hate them so it is less shameful when they rob them for their own profit. When you talk to on-duty cops, they claim eighty percent of crimes are committed by migrant workers. When you ask them to go to the Interior Ministry’s own website and take a gander at the stats, they switch to saying most crimes are committed by North Caucasians. Then they say, “Well, it’s just our policy.” When you tell them they should not implement a criminal policy because they are law enforcement officers, they get it. But they complain they have arrest quotas to fill.
Muhiddin, a janitor. Photo by Vlad Dokshin. See Muhiddin’s story in Novaya Gazeta′s special project Muscovites
Xenophobia Has Momentum
On January 12, the body of 41-year-old Tahirjan Hamrayev was found in Noginsk, Moscow Region. Hamrayev had been stabbed over twenty times. Hamrayev left Kyrgyzstan as a migrant worker in May 2017 and got a job on the construction site of a multi-storey residential building. As reported by Kyrgyzstani media, the dead man’s mother, Hairins Hamrayeva, said her son was supposed to have come home for the New Year’s holidays, but decided to stay in Noginsk since his employers, impressed by his work, had offered him extra jobs. On the fateful day, Hamrayev went into a shop and fell into the hands of at least ten neo-Nazis, local law enforcement official claim, citing an eyewitness’s testimony.
In the various ultra-right groups on social media where the incident is discussed, commentators occasionally write languidly that Hamrayev got what was coming to him. Generally, after the security services were pressured by the Kremlin into mopping up the sector, nationalism and neo-Nazism have died out as phenomena [sic], and nowadays assaults on migrant workers have gradually become something out of the ordinary,although in Petersburg on January 31, for example, a Tajikistani national was attacked with a knife in the subway.
No one, however, has abolished xenophobia, which, although it has displayed a downward trend [sic], is still firmly entrenched in the minds of Russians.
In early 2017, Tong Jahoni published the findings of a study on nearly 50,000 housing rental ads in Russian media. Only one out of every twelve ads was free of xenophobic insinuations. Most of the people who placed the ads wanted to rent their flats or rooms to “Russian citizens” (50%), “Slavs” (28%), and “ethnic Russians” (7%). The picture presented by help wanted ads was even more distressing. Only one in twenty ads among the 20,000 vacancies examined did not contain xenophobic allusions. Fifty-six percent of employers were seeking “Slavs” to fill the jobs, while 35% were eager to see “Russian citizens” in the positions.
Human rights activists say the situation is typical, and no one wants to change it for the most part. In turn, the media fuel the fire. In 2016, there were approximately 120,000 news reports involving migrant workers. News search websites focused mostly on crime reports, which constituted nearly 98,000 of the news reports filed.
However, the attitude to migrant workers on the part of the rank-and-file population is often quite neutral when they encounter each other face to face. Moreover, human rights activists can cite instances in which the police have helped migrant workers. But in terms of society at large, although xenophobia decreased by 10% last year, according to the official estimates produced by the Russian Federal Public Chamber, it still remains a serious problem. According to pollsters VTsIOM [sic], two thirds of the people they surveyed believed migrant workers took jobs away from Russian citizens.
Alexander Verkhovsky, director, Sova Center for Information and Analysis
There is xenophobia as a mass phenomenon: people’s attitudes and emotions. In this case, we can track changes through public opinon polls [sic]. I am quite glad that there is a growing number of people who, when asked about the feelings they have towards migrant workers (e.g., fear, apprehension, hatred, love), respond that they feel nothing, that they could not care less. The perfect relationship is precisely this, when people do not see a group as something that provokes emotions. They are just other people.
There is xenophobia as discrimination, when seeking employment, for example. Unfortunately, practical discrimination has been underresearched. What matters most is that people do not even perceive some forms of it as discrimination. For example, people are not ashamed to write in an ad that they will rent a flat only to a Slavic family. It is useless to fight this. It is a matter of the social atmosphere [sic].
Finally, the most aggressive form of xenophobia is physical violence. In recent years, the figures have been steadily declining. Just the other day, Sova Center published a new report based on the figures for last year. I would note there is not necessarily a meaningful connection with the decline of popular xenophobia, because assaults are not committed by the masses, but by ideologically motivated young people, who might have completely different opinions from the masses. This is more likely the consequence of a depression amongst radically minded young people. They are scared. They don’t really want to commit assaults [sic]. In the previous decade, they did not know the fear of God at all, as the saying goes, but then Center “E” [Russia’s “anti-extremism” police, established from disbanded anti-organized crime squads during Dmitry Medvedev’s presidency] went after them. Many street fighters went to prison, and this changed the situation.
Shirinsho “Handsome” Vohidov, from Tajikistan. Photo by Anna Artemieva. See Shirinsho’s story in Novaya Gazeta′s special project Muscovites
When migrant workers take ill in Russia, it is no simple matter for them to recover.
“To enroll at a district outpatient clinic, you need to have a temporary residence permit or residence permit, permanent registration,” says Daniil Kashnitsky, a junior researcher at the Higher School of Economics. “However, a poor command of information and the Russian language, as well as a lack of legal knowledge, means that when migrant workers are yelled at by employees at the intake desk, they leave and do not come back. There are many such instances.”
There is the option of going to a private clinic, but sometimes only a state clinic can help, for example, when tuberculosis is diagnosed. It can help, but it is not obliged.
“Tuberculosis has a dangerous phase when it is communicable through airborne droplets. Patients must be hospitalized during this phase. They should stay in hospital until the tuberculosis bacterium goes away, and they are no longer a danger to others. This usually takes two or three months,” explains Kashnitsky.
If migrant workers are hospitalized due to an accident, the treatment is free, of course, but the attitude towards them will be correspondingly shabby. Last year, when a busload of migrant workers was hit by a train near Vladimir, killing seventeen people, the local hospitals treated several severely injured people.
“I asked that an injured child be sent to Moscow. Two days later, he died in our regional hospital. I remember the child. He was a year and a half old, from an Uzbek family. I said, ‘Why did you send him to our hospital? Call a helicopter and take him to Moscow: he’ll get better help there.’ I was told the decision had been made by the health department,” recounts Alla Boyarova, director of an employment agency for migrant workers. On the morning of the tragedy, her husband had rushed to help the affected immigrants.
Zoyir Karimov, Boyarova’s husband, is deputy chair of the Tajik diaspora in Vladimir. He recalls that the adult victims had huge problems.
“Two of them did not make full recoveries in hospital. They were not operated on and were sent back in this shape to Uzbekistan. They were told they could buy special plates, but they had no money. One broke his shoulder, the other, his leg,” says Karimov.
Infographic No. 1: Sources of corruption in the migrant labor sector, 2017, per information gathered by the human rights organization Tong Jahoni. Police — 1,814 incidents (86.3%); immigration centers — 196 incidents (9.3%); migration service — 53 incidents (2.5%); other state agencies — 29 incidents (1.4%); other organizations — 11 incidents (0.5%). Infographic No. 2: Forms of corruption in the migrant labor sector, 2017, according to the human rights organization Tong Jahoni. “Verification” of registration status — 5,304 incidents (78.3%); arbitrary interpretation of the law — 896 incidents (13.1%); threats by police to file trumped-up administrative charges — 340 incidents (5.0%); high-pressure selling of unnecessary “services” — 196 incidents (3.0%); forcing migrant workers to use a particular middleman when filing papers — 41 incidents (0.6%). Infographics courtesy of Veronika Tsotsko and Novaya Gazeta
Blockchain to the Rescue
It is tempting to dub what is happening in the Russian migrant labor sector a mess. In fact, however, it is more likely a restructuring of the system after the Federal Migration Service (FMS) was incorporated into the Interior Ministry in 2016. The relationship with migrant workers has changed because what the Interior Ministry does most of all is punish people. Many of the organizations that dealt with drawing up papers for migrant workers have been turned into limited liability companies, meaning it has become nearly impossible to monitor their policies, and human rights activists have huge gripes with the new state-run immigration centers. New law bills that have been tabled will only aggravate the circumstances, reducing migrant workers to semi-slave status in Russia.
The question is simple: what to do? At a January 29 meeting of human rights activists to discuss the issue of immigration (a meeting not attended by diaspora leaders) various proposals were voiced. Vladimir Khomyakov, co-chair of the grassroots movement People’s Assembly (Narodnyi Sobor), made the most radical and regressive proposal at the round table.
“We need the strictest possible oversight of each person’s stay in Russia, not just this buying a work permit and hanging out wherever you want,” said Khomyakov. “We need a system of mutual obligations. We need a single government agency that would deal with immigration and use a single database.”
People who intend to travel to Russia should obtain all the papers they need at Russian consulates in their own countries, and each migrant worker should be assigned an ID number under which all information about him or her would stored, argued Khomyakov.
Totalitarian oversight in return for peace and quiet.
But Khomyakov’s idea was not met with unanimous approval by round table participants, just like the proposal, made Vyacheslav Postavnin, former deputy head of the FMS and president of the 21st Century Immigration Foundation [sic], to move immigration registration online or, at least, make it obligatory for immigrants to check in with the migration service by telephone. Some human rights activists were outraged by the fact this would make it easier for terrorists to hide [sic].
“Terrorists never violate immigration laws. Terrorist acts are complicated operations. What, they are going to put themselves at risk of being stopped by police for failing to reregister on time?” Postavnin countered crossly.
He was told that hackers could erase or damage the entiere online database, to which the former deputy head of the FMS showed off his knowledge of the word “blockchain.”
“Even if you wanted to, you couldn’t erase it,” he said.
Tatyana Dmitrieva, deputy head of the Department for Coordinating Local Immigration Offices and Accountable Forms in the Immigration Directorate of the Russian Interior Ministry’s Moscow Office, did not like any of these proposals. She only remarked that the ministry wholly supported a new law bill that would punish legal entities for providing fictitious registration, and that a consensua had to be reached with regard to thorny issues.
The discussion’s moderator, Fyodor Dragoi, chair of the Committee for Safety, Public Diplomacy and Public Oversight at the Council for Ethnic Affairs in the Moscow City Govermnent, suggested drawing up a list of proposals after the discusssion, since “this tumor [could] burst any minute,” and the problem had to be solved.
Another, autonomous proposal has been made by the Center for Strategic Research (CSR), which has published its report on immigration. Recognizing a decline in migration flows from the CIS countries in recent years—2017 saw an increase the numbers of migrant workers from many countries, but the numbers have not returned to pre-crisis levels—the report’s authors propose their own measures for maintaining a migration flow of 250,000 people to 300,000 people annually, which they claim is a necessary number for modern Russia. In particular, they propose introducing something like a green card for highly qualified immigrants in order to stimulate the influx, as well as work cards that would make it easier to obtain a residence permit.
Something has to be done, since Russia will have lost thirteen million able-bodied people by 2030, but internal resources for population growth have been exhausted.
Viorel, a Moldovan, on a lunchbreak with his workmates. Photo by Viktoria Odissonova. See Viorel’s story in Novaya Gazeta′s special project Muscovites
The problem is that there are not unlimited numbers of highly qualified immigrants, and the ones there are drift in other directions. To take one example, the number of migrant workers from Moldova has decreased over the last two years by more than one and a half times, from 250,000 to 157,000. They have begun looking towards the European Union. The number of migrant workers from the Eurasian Union has been growing, but their numbers are also limited, especially because Kazakhstani workers, for example, are needed in Kazakhstan itself, a country that, due to geographical proximity, grabs Kyrgyzstani workers away from Russia. The number of immigrants from Tajikistan have been growing steadily. On the other hand, while the number of Uzbekistanis coming to Moscow has grown over the past year, to a million and a half registered nationals, it would seem the numbers will eventually decline, since more convenient job markets have opened up to them.
“Turkey and the Emirates are currently very interesting and attractive to migrant workers from Asia,” says attorney Yulduz Ataniyazova. “The economy there is civilized, and there is a niche in the economy for unskilled workers. At the same time, the workers are provided with normal working conditions. For example, I know that in the Emirates migrant workers who clean houses and work in restaurants note that the cleaning liquids there are less harsh [sic]. This has now become important to them.”
However, the wages there are less than in Moscow, generally, but it depends on how you look at it.
“Uzbeks start doing the maths, and it turns out that here they will pay out more in bribes, whereas in Turkey a policeman would never approach them for no reason at all,” explains Chupik.
Workers from the CIS will keep coming to Russia for some time, of course. But if Russia toughens the rules for migrant workers, even the most desperate adventurers from the CIS countries will prefer, in time, to go somewhere else, to a place where they can work without risking their lives, health, and human dignity, not to mention their wallets.
Translated by the Russian Reader
NB. Perhaps I should have a three [sic]s and you’re out rule on this website, but despite the number of dubious or simply odd claims made by the article’s authors and the experts they quote, I thought there was enough important information and nontrivial viewpoints in the article to make it worth my while to translate and your while to read.
However, on one point—the claim that nationalists and neo-Nazis have come to naught in Russia, and hence the number of assaults on migrant workers has precipitously decreased—I was so bothered I turned to my friend W., a person who has been involved with immigrant rights in Russia both professionally and personally for many years. Here is their response.
“They are engaging in wishful thinking. Nationalism and neo-Nazism have not gone away. It has become very difficult to keep track of attacks. Officially, such reports are not welcome and are rarely discussed in the media. This is the current trend. None of this exists anymore in Russia, allegedly, while in Ukraine, for example, there has been a serious increase in anti-Semitism. According to the official interpretation, there is almost no anti-Semitism in Russia, although there were several egregious incidents in January. Basically, nobody cares about this business, and Jewish organizations mainly smooth over the potentially negative consequences of vociferous discussions.”
I should also point out the folly of relying on public opinion polling data in an authoritarian country like Russia, where respondents can be expected to give what they think is the “right” answer out of a fear bred into the society in Soviet times.
Nevertheless, in the absence of free elections and other real political freedoms, the Putin years have been a boom time for the country’s main pollsters, VTsIOM (mentioned in this article), FOM, and the supposedly independent Levada Center. They have polled away with merry abandon, and Russian and international journalists, many of them too lazy or lacking the time to do real reporting, have become increasingly dependent on the utterly falsified portrait of “average Russians” the country’s troika of loyalist pollsters has been painting over the last eighteen years. I have dubbed the phenomenon “pollocracy” and discussed it many times on this website. TRR