Wednesday, February 11, 2009

For Russia’s Migrants, Economic Despair Douses Flickers of Hope

Published: February 9, 2009

Marginalized and maligned in the best of times, Russia’s millions of
migrants are facing increasing hardship as the country enters its worst economic
decline since the 1998 ruble collapse. Recruited in droves mostly from former
Soviet republics in Central Asia to build shopping malls, skyscrapers and luxury
homes during Russia’s decade-long economic boom, migrant workers now top 10
million people by some estimates, giving Russia the second largest immigrant
population in the world, trailing only the United States.

Work on construction sites or renovations in private homes, the two
most lucrative migrant professions, are becoming more scarce and employers are
increasingly withholding wages for work already completed, leaving migrants
increasingly desperate. [...]

Russian officials, themselves besieged by the effects of the economic
crisis, are mostly concerned with reining in the number of migrants to preserve
jobs for Russian citizens.
Pressed by the gathering economic crisis, Prime
Minister Vladimir
V. Putin
, while acknowledging Russia’s dependence on migrant labor, has
called for quotas on work permits for migrants to be temporarily cut in half.

Increasing attacks by aggressive nationalists also weigh on their minds, as
jobs grow scarcer and a public backlash against migrant labor gains strength. A
Moscow-based human rights group recently announced that 10 people had been
killed in what were apparently racist attacks just since the start of the year.

On top of these problems, migrants often find themselves at the mercy
of the police, who can confiscate cash and other valuables on seemingly any
pretext, or without reason at all, experts and witnesses said.

In the last few months, police officers have raided the shantytown at
Chelobityevo several times, witnesses said, ostensibly to check for illegal
migrants. As often as not, however, legal status is no guarantee of protection.

“Even when all your documents are in order, they can beat you and take
your money,” Mr. Khamroyev said. “It’s not helpful to be here legally.”


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