Thursday, April 3, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Illegal Immigrants Now Form Quarter of Moscow’s Population

Paul Goble

Baku, April 4 –One in every four Moscow residents now is an illegal immigrant, according to the chairman of the city’s legislative assembly, although Vladimir Platonov acknowledges that neither he nor anyone else knows the exact figure which various experts say is between one and three million people.
During a program on Ekho Moskvy on Tuesday, Platonov said both the number of illegal immigrants in his city and the lack of reliable statistics about them were unacceptable, and he called for new laws to deal with the situation in order to protect the rights of those living in the capital legally (
His remarks came as the time limit for one of measures the city has tried to deal with the situation ran out. At the end of February, Moscow officials had announced that illegal migrants had a month to come “out of the shadow” by paying 2,000 rubles (80 U.S. dollars) for registration (
For three reasons, only a few hundred took advantage of this special offer. First, many do not want to pay the taxes that they would face if they were legal. Second, their employers are happy to keep them in an illegal status so they can pay them less. And third, many of them know that only one-third of Moscow’s legal immigrants have jobs.
In addition to this program, the city government has taken several other steps. It has succeeded in having its quota for new immigrants cut from 500,000 last year to only 250,000 in 2008, a dramatic reduction that may give the authorities a chance to get a handle on illegal immigrants.
Moreover, the city has developed special plastic cards for legal immigrants and required that employers make sure that they hire only those who can show these or other evidence of legal residence. And the authorities have increased the number of militia roundups of illegals.
But despite those efforts and Platonov’s call for even more draconian legislation, many Russian commentators and groups argue that the city is not doing enough to cope with an influx that they view not only as unacceptable but as a direct threat to their way of life.
Aleksandr Belov, the coordinator of the openly racist Movement against Illegal Immigration (DPNI), said that Platonov’s efforts would do little or nothing to solve the problems he said illegal immigrants pose. His solution? A crackdown on officials who take bribes in order to “close their eyes” to the presence of illegal immigrants.
Belov has a point: Ever since Mayor Yuri Luzhkov issued his infamous directive in October 1993 to expel from the city of Moscow “persons of Caucasus nationality,” many militiamen in the Russian capital have routinely supplemented their income by extorting money from non-Russian groups.
. Other commentators, like Vladimir Zharikhin, the deputy director of the Moscow Institute of CIS Countries, argue that there is no single magic bullet that will end the problem. Instead, they say, the city and the federal government must combine a variety of strategies if they are to rein in what even Platonov sees as a program now out of control.
It is not clear that officials at any level are ready to do that, and consequently, the problems related to illegal immigration, including increasingly frequent and violent clashes between them and Russian skinheads, seem certain to continue and possibly even grow worse.
And one reason for such a conclusion is that Moscow is no longer the only magnet for such illegal immigrants. In St. Petersburg, according to a recent report, 40 percent of the guest workers are illegal, a figure that may be even higher than their share in the Russian capital (

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