Monday, June 16, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Will Russian Extremists Target Chinese Replacements for Central Asian Gastarbeiters?

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 16 – Attacks in Russia on gastarbeiters from Central Asia and the Caucasus are a major reason for a 20 percent decline in the number of such immigrants over the last year, and human rights experts predict that the rising tide of xenophobia there will increase the frequency and possible violence of such attacks in the future.

            That trend may be one of the reasons behind Moscow’s decision to welcome more Chinese workers into the Russian Federation, but allowing more Chinese workers in could easily trigger increased fears among Russians about China’s intentions about Russia’s territorial integrity and new attacks on Chinese gastarbeiters.

            For the time being, Russian migration officials are suggesting that any Chinese who do come bill be more disciplined and better behaved  in a Russian context than those who have come from the former Soviet republics, although it remains to be seen whether such suggestions will turn out to be true.

            Konstantin Romodanovsky, head of the Federal Migration Service, said on Saturday that he does “not want” to predict “anything horrible” about the influx of Chinese workers to Russia at least some of whom will fill jobs left by the 20 percent decline in the number of Central Asian and Caucasian gastarbeiters (

            He said that the Chinese are law-abiding and well-controlled by their brigade leaders and their diaspora communities, something that has not always been the case with gastarbeiters from former Soviet republics.  The decline in the number of the latter, he suggested, reflected better Russian law enforcement against illegals rather than anything else.

            But other experts on migration suggest that the decline in the number of Central Asian and Caucasian workers in Russia reflects at least in part negative Russian attitudes to them, attitudes that at least in principle could be displaced onto Chinese gastarbeiters if the latter become numerous and prominent in Russian cities.

            In an article on the “Russkaya planeta” portal, Karomat Sharipov, the head of the All-Russian Tajik Gastarbeiter Movement, is quoted as saying that the number of Tajik dying in Moscow increased from 428 in 2012 to “more than 500” this year, figures that are comparable to those in the war zone of Afghanistan (

            Most of the Tajik deaths are among the young, people who have not been accustomed to using medical services in Tajikistan, he says, and who “do not have access to free medical care” in the Russian Federation.” And many of these deaths are the result of clashes among the gastarbeiters. He said Russian nationalist attacks on the community had recently fallen.

            But other Moscow experts disagree. Natalya Yudina of the SOVA rights center, acknowledges that the number of attacks by Russian extremists on Central Asians has declined largely because media denunciations of Ukrainians have given them a different focus. But “nonetheless, the number of attacks all the same remains high.”

            She said that the growth of xenophobia over the last year has been in part “connected with the broad anti-immigration campaign by the authorities.”  That “has created fertile soil for nationalists” whether the authorities specifically intended that message of not. 

            Aleksandr Verkhovsky, the director of SOVA, added that “after the events in Ukraine, the authorities have not been as active in opposing the ultra-nationalists. Instead, what the authorities have been doing with their talk about “the struggle with propaganda of Nazis” has been to give “the appearance” that they are doing something which they are not.

            And he said that the data collected by his organization show that deaths among Central Asian gastarbeiters in Russia as a result of attacks by ultra-nationalists “will be larger in 2014” than they were last year, a trend that may not change just become the ethnic composition of those workers changes in favor of the Chinese.

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