Vienna, October 11 – Convinced that migrants to their city are behind much of the crime there, nearly two out of every three Muscovites now favor expelling them from the city and blocking any new arrivals, according to a survey conducted by the Academy of Sciences Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology.
But that widespread belief propagated by the media and politicians, according to an article in yesterday’s “Novyye izvestiya,” is without foundation because those arriving in the Russian capital are “more likely to turn out to be victims of crimes than their authors” (http://www.newizv.ru/news/2007-10-10/77731/).
According to an official in the city’s militia establishment, 18 percent of all crimes in Moscow this year were committed by “foreigners and stateless persons,” 90 percent of whom were from the former Soviet republics. But prosecutors disputed this claim.
“No one in fact knows how many crimes foreigners commit and what portion they represent in the criminal world of the capital,” prosecutors said. Moreover, “many crimes are never reported, and the main thing is that no one knows how many I=migrants there are in the city.”
Estimates of the number of Moscow’s migrants, many of whom are in the city illegally, range from three million to eight million for a city that officially has a census-based population of 10.4 million. Consequently, calculating the share of crimes any particular migrant group is responsible for is very difficult.
Compounding the difficulty of coming up with an estimate, prosecutors said, is the fact that most migrants engage in crimes like falsifying documents and work permits, violations that are easy for the authorities to find the guilty party, rather than more major crimes, whose perpetrators often go on without charges ever being filed.
There are, of course, a limited number of professional criminals among the migrant populations, “Novyye izvestiya” notes. But they have little in common with the average guest worker. Instead, they typically consist of ethnic groupings that “specialize” in particular kinds of crime.
Despite these findings and the work of scholars like Emil Pain, who for years has challenged any claim that crime in Russia is primarily ethnically based, many groups – most notoriously, the Movement Against Illegal Immigration and its website, http://www.dpni.org – run lurid stories about a supposed flood of ethnic crimes.
Not surprisingly, politicians have responded to these fears, however baseless they are. Moscow Mayor Luzhkov and his administration have called for imposing tighter controls over new migrants and expelling without much ceremony those who refuse to adapt to urban Russian conditions.
The leaders of migrant ethnic communities have responded by offering to help the authorities track down criminals in their midst while insisting that their number is very small both absolutely and in comparison with the surrounding indigenous population of the Russian capital.
Dzhamil Sadykhbekov, the vice president of the National Cultural Autonomy of Azerbaijanis in Russia, told the paper that his group was prepared to assume responsibility for the behavior of the capital’s Azerbaijanis – a group that now forms the second largest nationality in the city after the ethnic Russians.
But like other ethnic leaders, he stressed that to reduce the amount of crime by migrants, it was essential to also “stop the arbitrary actions” against them by the authorities, actions that frequently lead the migrants to violate the law even if they have no initial interest in doing so.
Not surprisingly, the only group among the Russian majority ready to speak out on behalf of the migrants consists of the small number of human rights activists and some although hardly all journalists. But their voices are generally drowned out by those who denounce the migrants as the source of crime – especially in this electoral season.