Repressive migration policy practices in Russia

18.10.2013
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In June 2012 Russia adopted federal concept of migration policy for the period until 2025, which defined priorities for guaranteeing rights and liberties of people and citizens, stated that all forms of discrimination were unacceptable and that all national and international legal norms should be observed. But these principles remain a mere declaration, while the actual policies of regional authorities towards labor migrants remain more and more repressive.

Unfortunately phobia of migrants becomes systematic not only due to the position of the authorities and the agencies supposed to observe legality. Practically all visible political forces ranging from Neo-Nazi groups to the Coordination council of the opposition use racist slogans of “fighting against illegal immigrants” to attract followers and call for maximal tightening of legislation on immigration and introduction of visa regime for the CIS countries.

It’s not difficult for them to attract followers and the next thing we have is Cossack patrols in the streets, which starting the end of 2012 are used to fight against “illegal migration” and “ethnic crime”. We also witness “people’s militias” and some public organizations, which often consist of nationalist activists, taking part in these patrols. These “popular masses” often stressing their loyalty towards authorities in general and law enforcement agencies in particular call for tightening immigration policies and look for legible signs from the authorities.

In Moscow we already have “volunteer militias for assistance to the Federal migration service” (FMS), which participate in raids aimed at finding migrants. As Moscow department of FMS reports “migration patrols” together with policemen and members if such militias are carried out twice per week and is accompanied by “explanatory work” among the foreign citizens. It appears that Moscow practices will be extended into other regions of the Russian Federation, including Saint Petersburg and Leningrad region, where the authorities adopted a clearly migrant phobic position and consider “migration policies” to be equivalent to massive checks of foreign citizens and overall tightening of immigration regime.

On November 27, 2012 regional program “Migration” was adopted in Saint Petersburg, which partially replaces earlier “Tolerance” program. The main aim of the new program is “to create a system for regulation of demand on the Saint Petersburg labor market, to guarantee use of internal labor resources on a priority basis, in particular through drawing highly qualified staff from Russian regions, as well as citizens of Belorussia and Kazakhstan, who have the right to work in Russia without additional permits”. At the same time it is “envisioned that attraction of foreign immigrants should be limited –work should be provided to those only who are in high demand in Saint Petersburg economy”. The announced aims are in evident contradiction with the actual situation: as it is well known, most of the workers coming from outside of the region in Saint Petersburg are from Uzbekistan (over 70% of labor migrants), Ukraine, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Azerbaijan, who all need special permits for working in Russia. And they are indeed in great demand on Saint Petersburg labor market – so much that the working quotas adopted for 2013 are expected to be further increased.

It is evident that although current migration processes are viewed as undesirable for the region in the new program and as ones requiring limitations, this hardly influences the labor market, as it is a mere declaration of the need to provide decent level of salaries or migrant workers, proper medical treatment, etc. It is also important that the measures adopted by the city authorities regarding immigrants are a far cry from the international human rights standards.

For example, on February 8, 2013 a raid was carried out in the rooms for prayer located in Apraksin Court trading centre by the Saint Petersburg city police department, Federal security service (FSB), regional FMS department, Chief Investigation Directorate, special police forces and the Centre for fighting against extremism. The pretext for this special operation were the actions taken as part of investigation concerning supposed religious extremism and hate propaganda carried out by Muslim fundamentalists, whom the media was fast to find among the persons detained during the raid. Mr. Z., a citizen of Russia of Uzbek origin, has approached ADC “Memorial” and reported that during the raid as he had been praying in a mosque together with his sons he was beaten up. “I was leaving the mosque together with my 10 year old son, holding him by the hand, as we passed a special police force officer. My son was looking at him and smiling. The police officer was enraged at my son and asked him: “What is it that you are grinning at?” I told him that there was nothing wrong, that he was a child. I was then kicked onto the floor and beaten up, and the beatings continued downstairs as I was taken detained”. Mr. Z. and his elder son, as well as 50-60 other detainees were put on a bus and taken to the headquarters of the anti-extremist unit on Ruzskaya street, where they were interrogated for a long time and their fingerprints were taken. Unfortunately, Mr. Z refused to make a formal complaint against the ill treatment by the police forces, he said that he doesn’t see the point in making an argument about these actions, as high ranking officers participated in the raid, including a colonel of the FSB. According to the witness reports, as many as 200 migrants were victims of various police abuses during that raid.

Following February 8 raids in Apraksin Court became systematic, repeating every 2-3 weeks – in fact a regime of “migrant patrolling” was introduced there. Such “checks” were being carried out with the participation of officers of various ministries – FMS, police, special police forces, centre for fighting extremism, Ministry for emergency situations, Federal drug control service, procurators’ offices.

One such raid was carried out at Apraksin Court on April 3. According to a report of the Saint Petersburg department of FMS, 142 foreign citizens were checked during the raid, out of them 25 were charged with various violations – 19 persons received administrative penalties, 5 people faced shortened period of stay in the Russian Federation, one was detained for further deportation from the country. According to witness reports, the check was accompanied with extortion of money from immigrants, insults and confiscation of their identity documents.

Mr. B., a citizen of Tadzhikistan, approached ADC “Memorial”. He was detained during the raid on April 3 and taken to the department of immigration control. Unlike the other detainees, he didn’t have Rb 1,000 on him, which were extorted from the detainees by the officers of the department, that’s why the latter took his migration card and notification of arrival to Russia and in return Mr. B. was given a receipt in order to pay Rb 2,000 “for lack of medical insurance certificate”. At the same time Mr. B. had arrived to Russia only On March 22 and didn’t have time to apply for a permit to work here. His attempt to recover his illegally confiscated documents was met with resistance from the officers of the immigration control department. On April 12 the staff of ADC “Memorial” presented a formal complaint against the actions of the officers of the FMS, but received no response. Currently the case of Mr. B. is in court, while the claimant himself stays in Saint Petersburg illegally due to the arbitrary actions of the officers of the migration service.

The situation at Apraksin Court is not unique since special raids, migration patrols and special operations “Illegal immigrant”, which bear no distinction from one another, are carried out in various parts of the city. The signal for the beginning of massive operations aimed at labor immigrants was given from the above: on March 19, 2013 the Saint Petersburg governor Mr. Poltavchenko made a speech on the growth of the number of crimes perpetuated by immigrants in the city and stated that he will not tolerate “illegal immigrants”. Thus the xenophobic stereotype of “ethnic crime” became a guiding principle of migration policy in the city. Already on March 20, on the eve of Nowruz holiday celebrated by the people of Central Asia and Caucasus, a city-wide operation of the Ministry of interior and the Federal migration service “Illegal immigrant” started. Labor immigrants dwelling in Primorsky and Krasnoselsky districts of the city reported to ADC “Memorial” massive detentions, confiscation of identity documents, extortion of money and even beatings of foreign citizens. Unfortunately the complaints presented by ADC “Memorial” were considered only in a very formal fashion and the victims of police abuse preferred not to make formal complaints to the procurators’ offices in an attempt to try to avoid further repression from the police. But it seems that these practices became favourite among the city authorities. On March 27 officers of police and Federal migration service carried out a check on a market on Salov street, on April 12 – the Hay Market (over 600 people were detained) and on April 14 FMS carried out a special operation “Minibus” aimed at migrant workers employed in the public transportation sector.

It is noteworthy that compared to the stereotype of criminal activity coming from the immigrants, which is blown out of any proportion, the results of these raids aimed at “illegal immigrants” are more than modest: while the number of persons detained is counted in hundreds, the actual charges of violations are presented to a couple of dozen people usually, while the persons suspected of crimes are usually not found at all in the course of such raids.

Based on the statistics published on the website of the Russian general procurator’s office (www.crimestat.ru), in January 2013 just 2% of the crimes registered in Russia were committed by the citizens of other CIS countries. These statistics refute all the claims of massive “ethnic crime”. But at the same time one can see on the website a report that for 926 crimes registered in 2012 whose victims were foreign citizens or people without citizenship in Russia zero (sic!) persons were prosecuted.

But it is not statistics that the regional authorities operate with when implementing their migration policies. As becomes evident from the speeches of officials, any person coming from Central Asia for them is a potential illegal immigrant, extremist, Muslim fundamentalist, criminal, an undesirable person on the labor market. For example, the governor of Leningrad region Mr. Drozdenko on March 27, 2013 stated that “illegal immigrants have spread throughout the region as cockroaches”, crime level among them is on the rise, inter-ethnic relations in the region are deteriorating because of them. One can wonder how such xenophobic statements of a high ranking official against foreign nationals forced to earn their living through hard labor in Russia can contribute to “harmonization of inter-ethnic relations” in the region.

It is also children that are among the first victims of such fight against illegal immigrants. For example, as a result of a police and migration service’s raid on February 7, 2013 in Krasnoselsky district of Saint Petersburg (Volodarsky and Gorelovo settlements) 27 underage citizens of Tadzhikistan were detained. These children were taken from their Lyuli parents, a branch of ethnic Romani people from Central Asia, who dwell in these locations for more than 10 years now.

Mr. S., a citizen of Tadzhikistan, approached ADC “Memorial” and reported that following the February 7 raid his year and a half daughter was placed into a special orphanage #7 based on a resolution of the local children guardianship authority of Konstantinovskoye settlement in spite of the fact that she had a proper birth certificate and both of her parents had their identity documents in order. Head of the children guardianship authority told Mr. S. that “according to the Russian law we have to return the child to the parents, but there was a resolution of the city procurator’s office not to return children to parents during the period of procurator’s office checks unless the parents intend to leave Saint Petersburg”. Thus children are de facto used as hostages in order to persuade parents to leave Russia. Similar cases were also reported in Moscow.

Persecution of immigrant children were also reported in schools. ADC “Memorial” was approached by a mother of a 10-year old M., a refugee from Kyrgyzstan, who studies in school #443 of Frunzensky district of Saint Petersburg. The woman reported that in April 2013 four personal files of pupils were confiscated from school during a check carried out by the local department of FMS, including the personal file of her daughter. The girl was refused the possibility to attend classes and her parents were told that because the period of registration of their child had expired they had to pay a fine in order for a girl to resume school studies.

Extortion of money, refusal to make properly fill protocols, confiscation of documents, beatings and insults of labor migrants, which take place during such raids, often remain unpunished. At the same time the results of raids refute xenophobic stereotypes: both high crime levels and affiliation of labor immigrants with radical religious tendencies are very much exaggerated. But the law enforcement officers look for any possible indications of violations wherever they could find them, checking if migrants have medical insurance policies or going through personal files of pupils. This only forces immigrants into hiding and deprives their children of a possibility to get education guaranteed by international conventions which Russia had signed. It is unlikely that the adopted Federal concept of migration policy officially proclaims aims such as these.