Legal Assistance to Migrants

In March 2009, ADC “Memorial” initiated
a new project, “Legal Assistance to Migrants Belonging to National
Minority Groups in the Northwest Region of Russia” (with financial
assistance from Sida).  The project offers monitoring on the observance
of migrants’ rights in our region and on the legal and human rights
response in the event of any infringement of rights. 

Migration already long ago became a
fact of modern life.  According to statistics from the UN, 200
million people in the world live abroad for various reasons.  A
large portion of these people moved to another country in order to find
work.  Indeed, invited migrant labor plays a significant role in
the world economy.

The populations of many countries whose
economies have experienced drastic negative changes in the last few
decades are heavily dependent on the salaries of migrant workers:
these workers frequently send their earnings back to their homeland
and to their families living there.  For instance, in 2007, citizens
of Tajikistan working in Russia, according to data from the Central
Bank of Russia, send $1.6 billion dollars to their home country; Moldovan
citizens, $806 million.  This amounts to 36% and 17% of these countries
GDPs, respectively.  For the countries of the CIS, laboring migrants
and the money they make abroad play a particularly significant role
in the economy:  in Tajikistan, 53% of the entire country’s economy
depends on them.  Developed countries have already felt the effects
of the world economic crisis, but it is only beginning to be felt in
the poorer countries of the world.  In Russia, migrant laborers
have fallen into a particularly vulnerable and paradoxical situation.
On the one hand, even in the event of a financial crisis the demand
for manual labor remains, and our government has offered particularly
attractive conditions to potential migrant workers.  The Russian
government established a quota for those who want to receive permission
to work in the various regions of our country.  In 2009, the quota
was set at 213,863 persons for St. Petersburg, and 38,285 for Leningrad
Region.  In 2009, it was initially planned that around 4 million
people would be allowed to come to Russia to provide migrant labor-this
figure was to be higher than the quota for 2008 because the new quotas
had been decided in the middle of 2008.  Economic experts, as well
as employees of the Federal Migration Service welcomed increases to
the quota:  they noted that this higher, more realistic estimation
of the number of migrants to be allowed into Russia would help to legalize
the status of many currently illegal migrants-of which, according
to various estimates, there are currently between 10 and 12 million.

However, shortly after the announcement
of this new quota, the Russian government made a new decision, announced
by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on December 4, 2008 on live television,
to cut the quota by 50%.  A bit later, at the very end of 2008,
a Decree was adopted by the government of the Russian Federation forbidding
foreign laborers from working in retail trade in kiosks, markets, and
outside of stores-in other words, in all of those places where residents
of the Near Abroad usually work.  According to government bureaucrats,
these measures were adopted to fight economic instability and arose
in response to the demands of regular Russian citizens not wishing to
give up jobs to “outsiders” during a financial crisis and a period
of heightened unemployment.

Economic experts, however, find these
decisions to be overly populist and poorly-thought-out.  Russians
do not work in the sectors of the economy typically occupied by migrant
laborers-that is, in those positions with truly difficult conditions
and that offer low pay-in other words, in reality, migrants do not
take away jobs from Russian citizens.  Our economy continues to
be in need of foreign laborers, and lowering the quota will not eliminate
unemployment among Russian citizens but instead will force even migrant
laborers to work illegally, where they will be even more vulnerable
and stripped of even more rights.

But in the popular consciousness myths
continue to be cultivated that demonize migrants and foster hatred towards
them.  In addition to the false premise that migrants steal jobs
from “native” Russians, the media often perpetuates the myth that
most crimes in this country are committed by migrants.  The media
quotes government bureaucrats and employees of the Ministry of Internal
Affairs that frighten Russians into expecting a surge in crimes committed
by currently unemployed foreign workers.  Meanwhile, official statistics
from the Ministry of Internal Affairs show that on the territory of
the Russian Federation, only 2.8% of all crimes that have been investigated
are committed by citizens of the CIS (data from the period from January
to September 2008).  Experts are certain that the financial crisis
will not lead to an increase in crimes committed by migrant workers:
if the demand for migrant labor decreases, these migrants would be most
likely move to a different sector of the economy or move to a country
where they could receive work.  After all, the people who choose
to become migrant laborers are those who want to work, not those inclined
to criminal behavior.

However, common sense is a foreign
idea to those who prefer an ideology of hatred to the opinion of experts
and professionals.  Xenophobia can be seen in all levels of our
society:  it is visible in the announcements made by bureaucrats
and in the statements of people on the street and in public transportation.
Particularly embarrassing are the speeches made by those pro-Kremlin
groups who speak out against legal (!) migrants.  For example,
in November 2008, “the Young Guard of United Russia” held a campaign
called “Our Money to Our People!” that demanded all migrants be
sent out of the country, freeing up jobs for Russians, and that a law
be adopted closing Russia’s borders to migrant laborers.

It seems that someone must be profiting
from turning these migrant laborers into scapegoats, laying all of the
responsibility on them for the unfavorable economic situation in the
country.  The wrath of the average citizen, who has never learned
to think for him- or herself, but believes the stories made up by others,
is unleashed not upon the employer, for whom it is profitable to make
use of cheap labor from migrants; not upon the police, for whom the
existence of illegal migrants is also profitable; not upon the authorities,
“thanks” to whose direction and policies millions of people are
forced to find work far from their families and homes-but upon the
migrants themselves.  Moreover, not even for a minute do these
average citizens who hate migrants think to try to put themselves into
the shoes of these foreign laborers, these people, who, because of a
series of unfortunate circumstances, find themselves working in a foreign
country in a badly-paid, low-skill position, every day having to face
the risk of being offended, hurt, or even killed.  The frightening
and very shameful figures on the incidence of hate crime in Russia-that
is the price of Russia xenophobia and hatred of migrants.

International organizations have called
upon the governments of various countries to help migrant laborers in
these financially difficult times.  For example, in a presentation
in 2008, The International Organization for Migration called for the
tightening of laws on migrant laborers to stop.  The World Bank,
for its part, recommends that inter-governmental agreements be signed
offering higher unemployment benefits, the funds for which should be
taken from the social insurance accounts of countries in which migrant
laborers have worked. The Secretary-General of the UN Ban Ki-moon,
speaking at the Global Forum on Migration and Development in October
2008, said, “[…] migration can and should be a tool to help lift
us out of this economic crisis. […] Human mobility makes our economies
more efficient, even when they are not growing, by ensuring that the
right skills can reach the right places at the right time.  Human
mobility also helps redress the enormous imbalances that have led to
harsh economic inequality.”

(The Russian original makes use of
materials from the sites www.fms.gov.ru, www.ufms.spb.ru, www.ferghana.ru; Ban Ki-moon’s full Address can be found
at http://www.un.org/apps/news/infocus/sgspeeches/search_full.asp?statID=354)

Olga Abramenko

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