Staunton, June 28 – When the pandemic began, many Moscow commentators suggested that its economic consequences, likely to hit immigrant workers from Central Asia and the Caucasus first, would lead to protest actions in Russia. When that didn’t happen in the capitals or other major cities, most concluded that the immigrants weren’t going to act.
But that was myopic, Russian commentator Aleksandr Shustov says. Immigrant protests “have all the same begun” just not where the commentators expected but rather along the borders Moscow has closed to combat the coronavirus (ritmeurasia.org/news--2020-06-28--vystuplenija-migrantov-vse-zhe-nachalis-49678).
There, he continues, a genuine “crisis” has emerged.
The largest case of this was along the Russian-Azerbaijani border where two weeks ago, some 400 Azerbaijanis unable to return home clashed with police. Seven siloviki were wounded, and 93 participants were arrested after they sought to block a highway to call attention to their plight.
But that is hardly the only such migrant protest. At the end of April, Tajiks clashed with police at a detention facility near Yekaterinburg in response to the same situation: They wanted to go home but couldn’t (tass.ru/ural-news/8345151). To prevent a repetition, the regional authorities organized a flight home on May 26 for most of those involved.
Shustov reports that the embassies of the Central Asian countries are working to organize such flights, apparently fearful that if there is violence, workers from their countries won’t be able to return after the crisis and won’t be sending home essential transfer payments (asiaplustj.info/ru/news/tajikistan/society/20200623/posol-tadzhikistana-v-rossii-aviabileti-na-charteri-budut-prodavatsya-strogo-po-spisku and facebook.com/KyrgyzstanMFA/).
This problem has been exacerbated by two other trends: On the one hand, many Russians believe that migrant workers are a source of crime; and on the other, reports about coronavirus deaths among the migrants have led many to conclude that the migrants are a major threat to the health of Russians (tj.sputniknews.ru/migration/20200623/1031457800/podrobnosti-smerti-migrant-dostavlennykh-Russia-Tajikistan.html and fergana.site/news/118485/).
As serious as the consequences of these views and the clashes are to Russia, unemployment among those in Russia may have even more fateful ones. Financial transfers home by such workers have fallen by as much as 22 percent so far and are projected to fall far more when the May numbers are reported (fergana.site/news/119191/ and windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2020/06/unemployment-among-migrants-in-russia.html).
What will happen in the future when the pandemic ebbs remains unclear. In the short term, the problem of migrant unemployment and anger is the more important. In the longer term, especially if Russia tries to do without immigrant workers as some suggest, the impact of this loss of income on Central Asian countries could be their radical destabilization.