Paul Goble reports:
Immigrant workers in Russia commit only three percent of all crimes in that country even though they form ten percent of the population, a prominent Moscow rights activist says — and a third of those crimes involve the falsification of documents, the result of their inability to secure legal registration.
In an interview published in Velikaya Epokha Svetlana Gannushkina, a leader of Memorial and the Civil Assistance Committee, singles out for particular criticism Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov who is “eternally claiming that migrants occupy our work places, violation our cultural traditions, speak Russian poorly and commit a large fraction of crimes in Russia.” All this is “completely absurd,” Gannushkina says. The Interior Ministry’s website features figures showing that “foreign citizens and those without citizenship commit about three percent of the total number of crimes,” a figure that has held more or less constant “already for many years.”
She concedes that the share of crimes committed by migrant laborers is higher in major cities like Moscow but still less than their share of the population. And she points out that “according to the Federal Migration Service, approximately a third of the crimes committed by foreigners are connected with the fabrication of documents.” Gannushkina, who has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, adds that the situation with immigrants in Russia today is “stable but poor,” although she adds that “if one speaks about migrantphobia, then over the last year or two, it has somewhat decreased,” with Russians for the first time asking “how it is possible to defend migrants from persecution.”
In her experience, the human rights activist continues, “people are little by little coming to understand that migrants do not occupy our work places, that there work is necessary and useful for us and that they are doing this conscientiously because they very highly value the chance to help their families.” That “mutually profitable” arrangement, she says, would only be strengthened if there were a clearer and easier path to the legalization of immigrant workers. Unfortunately, many politicians and officials “regularly speak out against making the legalization of the labor activity of migrants easier.”
Their statements, often based on untrue reports, reflect what they see as politically useful – anti-migrant statements increase around elections, Gannushkina notes – and the way in which employers of migrant laborers benefit from keeping these people from having legal status and thus being in a position to defend their rights. Given that the Russian Federation has visa-free arrangements with nine of the countries in the Commonwealth of Independent States, Gannushkina observes, migrants will come from these countries and then go to work without legal cover “if we do not give them the opportunity to work legally.”
Indeed, she continues, what is occurring reflects the precisely organized “corrupt system” that she and other rights activists warned about eight years ago when Vladimir Putin pushed through the current legislation governing “the legal status of foreign citizens,” a law is responsible for most of the problems Russia now has in this area. That is because, Gannushkina points out, the 2002 “draconian” law made it virtually impossible for most employers to employ immigrants and most immigrants to gain legal status, thus reducing them to the status of illegals, allowing employers to exploit them, and guaranteeing crime statistics that Russian politicians have regularly invoked.
Such arrangements, she insists, “instruct society in hatred and discrimination,” with only “a handful of citizens now trying to oppose arbitrary practice and the exploitation of migrant workers.” In response to questions, Gannushkina discusses one of the most abused aspects of this system – the extradition of migrants without any decision of the courts and only on the basis of an order by the director of the Federal Migration Service or one of his deputies, an arrangement that invites even more corruption and repression.