Voice of America reports:
A ban on foreigners working in Russia’s retail markets has gone into effect, leaving many market owners wondering how to staff the booths selling everything from fruit to clothing. Critics also say the measure is racist. Bill Gasperini has more for VOA from Moscow.
Marketplaces around Russia are partly empty because of the ban.
The measure is among the laws passed last year that President Vladimir Putin says aim to boost job prospects for Russian citizens. But critics say it is really a populist measure that taps into nationalist sentiment before parliamentary elections due in December. There have also been complaints the measure will push up prices for most goods, especially in Russia’s Far East, where Chinese have long dominated retail trade. People there say some shortages have occurred recently, as the Chinese began leaving in anticipation of the ban. These Far-East consumers say prices had gone up a lot, and that before Chinese traders usually offered more goods for better prices.
Officials in some Russian regions warn the economy will be disrupted as many traders of non-Russian descent have been forced to abandon their market stalls. But the government has defended the measure, with officials pointing out that the quota for legal foreign workers increased from one million to six million in January. There are estimated to be around 12 million illegal foreign workers in Russia, mostly from other former Soviet republics in Central Asia and the Caucasus Mountains. And as in Europe, immigration has become a hot political issue, but the backlash in Russia has also included attacks against mostly dark-skinned foreigners.
The respected monitoring organization Sova says there were more than 500 such attacks last year that resulted in 54 deaths, an increase over the previous year. Eleven of those victims died when a bomb exploded in a crowded Moscow marketplace dominated by Chinese and other foreigners.
The Independent adds this:
Migrant workers in Russia found themselves legislated out of a job yesterday after a controversial new law reserving retail jobs for ethnic Russians came into force.
The legislation, which has been described as state-sponsored racism by human rights activists, bans non-Russians from working in large swaths of the country’s retail sector.
It will affect Russia’s food and clothing markets and the thousands of roadside kiosks that sell anything from newspapers to cosmetics .
Until yesterday it was not uncommon to visit a market staffed exclusively by migrant workers from across the former Soviet Union. Now hundreds of thousands of migrant workers from countries such as Georgia, Azerbaijan and Tajikistan are looking for new jobs. In Russia’s Far East such positions have typically been filled by Chinese migrant workers and many of them appear to have already returned home. At Ussuriysk’s vast market near the Chinese border almost all the stalls were reported to be deserted. “We had hoped good sense would prevail … This could disrupt the economy and bring many problems,” said Sergei Simakov, a district councillor from Ussuriysk.
Some commentators have raised fears that prices may rise as employers are forced to pay higher wages and wonder if ethnic Russians will be willing to take up jobs that entail working 12-hour days. At Moscow’s famous Dorogomilovsky food market several stalls were denuded of their usually exotic mixture of fruit and vegetables from across the former Soviet Union. In their place hung signs that read: “Wanted: Salespeople. Must be Russian.”
Officials from the migration service raided a Moscow market in a sign that the Kremlin expects the new law to be scrupulously followed. A spokesman for the Federal Migration Service said the raid proved that the new law was effective. “Considering that this particular market has 1200 trading stalls and only four foreigners were detected you can conclude that in general the law is working.” The Kremlin insists that there is nothing racist about the law that it says is intended to protect the rights of ethnic Russians who have complained of being squeezed out of the retail sector by migrant workers.
But human rights activists say nationalism is on the march ahead of crunch parliamentary elections in December and a presidential election next March and have accused the state of pandering to racists. Allison Gill, head of the Moscow office of Human Rights Watch, said in the Soviet era Russia was famous for promoting “friendship between peoples”, hosting large numbers of students from the developing world. “But now that slogan seems to have been turned on its head. It is now Russia for Russians.”