From Tajikistan to Russia: Vulnerability and abuse of migrant workers and their families
Paris, St Petersburg, 10 December – The situation of Tajik migrants in Russia is deteriorating, said FIDH and ADC Memorial in a report released today. Increasingly restrictive migration laws are pushing migrants into irregular situations and increasing their vulnerability, while exploitation goes unchecked.
The dire economic situation in Tajikistan, where around 40% of the population of working age is unemployed, continues to push hundreds of thousands of men and women to leave for Russia every year. According to official statistics, in 2014 there were over a million Tajik citizens in Russia. The remittances sent back represent 47% of Tajikistan’s GDP, the highest percentage of any country worldwide. For most families, they are the main source of income. This trend looks set to continue.
Despite recent measures announced by the Tajik authorities, migrants remain highly vulnerable to abuse. As a result of increased restrictions on entry and stay in Russia, deportations have multiplied and tens of thousands of migrants have been subjected to re-entry bans. Migrant workers interviewed by FIDH and ADC-Memorial reported extortion by Russian police and border guards, arbitrary arrests and police violence. Fuelled by xenophobic political discourse and media reports, vigilante attacks on migrants are on the rise. Those responsible for attacks benefit from almost complete impunity. The report also documents non-payment of wages, poor living conditions are poor and lack of access to medical treatment. “The multiplication of legal restrictions, raids on migrants like “Operation Migrant 2014” launched this November, and rising xenophobia are resulting in serious violations of migrants’ human rights. We are deeply concerned about recent acts of violence against migrants, on the part of the police and civilians, which have gone unpunished”, said Karim Lahidji, FIDH President. “In December, it became clear that Operation Migrant 2014 would be ongoing. Mass arrests and detention of migrants in Moscow and St. Petersburg continue.“
The report addresses the human rights impact of migration on women in particular. Hundreds of thousands of women are left behind in Tajikistan to bring up children, working in the fields and on markets, and depending on their in-laws for support. Those whose husbands stop sending money or disappear completely can find themselves destitute. Over the past several years, there has also been a sharp increase in numbers of Tajik women migrating to seek work. It is estimated that today around 15% of migrants are women. Women migrants, especially those who leave the country alone, are seen as challenging traditional roles and often suffer stigmatisation from their families and communities in Tajikistan, while in Russia they are particularly vulnerable to exploitation and violence.
In 2012, Tajikistan was examined by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families. The Committee raised particular concerns about corruption among border guards and some consular staff and the lack of effective complaint mechanisms for victims of abuse. “Consular protection for Tajik migrants in difficulty in Russia remains inadequate and the Tajik Migration Service has not established an effective complaints procedure. Cases of exploitation by employers and intermediaries, including forced labour, are not properly investigated by the authorities of either country,” said Stefania Koulaeva, Head of ADC-Memorial.
Since 2011, FIDH and ADC Memorial have undertaken a series of joint investigations to document the situation of Tajik migrant workers in Russia and the violence, xenophobia and serious violations of economic and social rights they face there.
Interview with Stephania Koulaeva, head of the Anti-Discrimination Centre ’Memorial’ (ADC ’Memorial’), on the situation of migrants in Russia
At the end of October the Russian government launched a huge operation called Migrant 2014 to crack down on migrants in an irregular situation in Russia. FIDH and ADC Memorial reported 7,000 arrests during the operation. What happened to those migrants and their families? Where are they now?
When we first reported on the 7,000 arrests, Migrant 2014 had only just begun. According to official figures published by the Moscow police and Moscow department of the Federal Migration Service, by the end of the operation on 4 November, over 50,000 migrants had been arrested by the police. Almost 2,000 expulsions were conducted and hundreds of migrants were detained. Simultaneously, the Federal Migration Service (FMS) in Moscow carried out a wave of inspections that resulted in the expulsion of 1,500 people. Another 3,000 people were barred from re-entry. The total revenue from penalties imposed on these migrants was almost 50,000.000 rubles (approximately 1 million Euros.)
Repression of migrants in Moscow alone during the week-long operation resulted in more than 3,500 expulsions and tens of thousands of cases of administrative punishment.
As to the current whereabouts of the arrested migrants, we can assume that many of them had to leave the country, often with a ban on coming back for a number of years. Although others could continue their life and work in Russia, they have had to pay a high price for permission to do so.
What does this operation say about the Russian government’s approach to migration? How does the Russian migration policy impact other countries in the region?
The Russian government policy on migration is controversial. On the one hand, it has close ties to the main business structures that employ migrant workers, in such fields as construction, communal service, and sales. This system allows Russia to benefit from a cheap labour force without spending on social needs. On the other hand, the very people who profit from the hard work and low wages of migrants are the ones who organised the operations against them, and use xenophobic rhetoric in the government-controlled media in order to pander to nationalist sentiments of the population. Migrants have become scapegoats for the immense problems that Russia now faces on the political and economic level, despite the fact that the country cannot function without migrant work.
The Russian government plays a complicated strategic game in the region on migration issues. For example, Russia allows Tajik migrant workers to work in Russia in exchange for military and geopolitical support from Tajikistan. Tajikistan meanwhile benefits from the remittances that working migrants send back to their families.
What are the main problem faced by migrants in Russia?
Migrants in Russia face a multitude of problems, including widespread discrimination, the stigma of illegality and the risk of detention and deportation and xenophobia, in particular towards migrants from the Caucasus and Central Asia. Those who are not formally employed face a prohibition on staying in Russia longer than three months, which, in practice, forces almost all children of migrants into illegal status.
Migrant workers receive lower wages for the very same work done by Russian nationals and suffer from the absence of social security in case of illness, injury or death.
Conditions of detention are another major problem. There is an absence of judicial control over the duration of detention of migrants accused of violating migration laws, which can last up to two years on purely administrative grounds.
These problems are compounded by the lack of support demonstrated by the migrants’ countries of origin. In some cases, such as in Uzbekistan, migrants even face repression from their government for working abroad.