Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Gastarbeiters Coming Back to Russia -- and Both They and Russians are Angry

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 11 – Because the economic situation in Central Asia and the southern Caucasus is now in some cases worse than that in Russia, gastarbeiters from the former Soviet space are beginning to return to Russian cities, a trend that is potentially explosive because both Russians and the migrant workers arriving are increasingly angry at one another.

            That is the conclusion offered by “Nezavisimaya gazeta” journalist Yekaterina Trifonova on the basis of a new report by the Russian Academy of Economics and State Service and on her conversations with leading experts on migrants and their problems in adapting to Russian realities (

            The number of immigrant workers in Russia has grown by approximately 200,000 in recent months, the report says, rapidly bringing their total back to what it was before the onset of the economic crisis. Almost all of the increase involves people from the former Soviet republics, given that workers from other countries have declined by more than half since 2013.

            Vyacheslav Postavnin, president of the 21st Century Migration Foundation, says that interior ministry figures confirm the growth in the number of gastarbeiters, with the number of new arrivals having risen from 1.6 million in 2014 to 2.6 million in 2016 – and those are only the officially registered ones. The number of unregistered gastarbeiters makes the numbers greater.

            The Academy’s report also expressed concerns about the expansion of the number of illegals, pointing out that the number of people coming to Russia to work equals approximately four million a year even though Moscow has given permission for only 1.8 million from CIS countries. Many don’t register to avoid paying for the migrant worker patents Moscow requires.

            According to Trifonova, “local residents are protesting against the return of labor migrants” because Russians believe that they drive down wages even as they introduce “an alien culture” into Russian cities. “Many are certain that citizens do not get any benefit from migrants and that only companies, which use cheap workers and bureaucrats need them.”

            The Moscow Bureau for Human Rights says that attacks on migrants have been increasing in the last few months, something Postavnin confirms. “Of course,” he says, “the return of migrants is provoking xenophobic conflicts. This is a clash of cultures: our citizens are not prepared to live with people” who don’t speak Russian and who insist on their own ways.

            The only way to avoid clashes, he suggests, is via “the integration of those who come into Russian realities.” But he adds that he doesn’t see “a single step” in that direction. “The authorities are too obsessed with criticizing the West and don’t notice that they themselves are repeating its scenarios.”

            “I will not be surprised,” Postavnin says, “if explosions on an ethnic basis begin to take place” in Russia.

            Polls suggest just how angry Russians are. According to VTsIOM, 78 percent of Rusisans favor limiting immigration, 60 percent say they are openly hostile to representatives of other ethnicities, and 52 percent say there are conflicts between local residents and arrivals.  As a result, “42 percent are worried about disorders and conflicts on an ethnic basis.”

            But Postavnin says that there is a new development which makes such clashes even more likely: it is quite possible that “the migrants themselves will begin to protest in order to defend their rights.”  Ever more of those arriving were born after 1991 and do not have any sense of a common sense of values. 

            “Up to now,” he continues, “the government keeps them in a half-forgotten position,” either forgetting the defense of the rights of migrants altogether or even violating their rights by its own actions.

            According to Yevgeny Bobrov, deputy head of the Human Rights Council says that nothing in the law prevents the migrants from protesting: they have the right to take part in demonstrations. And in some regions, migrant anger is rising because of the withholding of pay, other forms of mistreatment and hostility, and the high cost of immigrant registration.

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