Friday, January 30, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Most of What Russians Believe about Migrant Workers is Wrong, Moscow Paper Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, January 30 – A growing number of Russians believe that migrant workers are guilty of “all the mortal sins” and should be shunned, fired, or even expelled from the country, according to an article in today’s “Argumenty i fakty.” But six of the things Russians believe about these Gastarbeiters, it continues, are myths without any foundation.
Some of these myths, the article suggests, reflect longstanding popular attitudes toward anyone perceived as an outsider, but many, it continues, are the product of media accounts and political statements which appear designed to “distract attention from genuinely important issues” during the current crisis (
The first myth, the investigative weekly says, is the widespread view that “they take our jobs.” On the one hand, it says, most migrants do jobs that Russians do not want to do or fill jobs for which there are not enough Russians available, given the country’s demographic problems. A 2006 survey finding that most migrants work with other migrants confirms this, the paper says.
And on the other, the rising tide of unemployment in Russia is structural, hitting all workers in a particular part of the economy rather than hitting them selectively, despite suggestions that Russians are being dismissed because they get higher wages and calls for the massive firing of migrants.
Indeed, today, Federal Migration Service director Konstantin Romodanovsky said that his agency had no evidence that there had been disproportionate dismissals of either group, something that may calm migrant communities but that could anger some ethnic Russians (
The second myth, “Argumenty i fakty” continues, is that “migrants are criminalizing Russia.” Research by Emil Pain and other experts have shown that there is no basis for this assertion, despite the anecdotes offered by the Movement Against Illegal Immigration (DPNI). The one place where it this phenomenon is taking place, however, is “in the media.”
The third myth about Gastarbeiters is that they “significantly reduce the rate of pay of local workers” because of their willingness to work for less. That this may be true in a few instances, the paper acknowledges, is possible, but it says that research over many years shows that immigration does not lead to a reduction of wages over time.
What is true is that Russian workers sometimes want higher wages than the market will bear, and when immigrants are willing to work for less than that because even the lower Russian wages are higher than those in their homelands, Russians often misread their inability to get the higher wages as being the fault of the Gastarbeiters.
The fourth myth is that “migrants form ghettos, thereby increasing interethnic hostility and tension in the cities where they live.” But that notion is a classical example of blaming the victim. Ghettos, at least in Russia, “are the result of the failure of the policy of integration and not the inevitable consequence” of that trend.
The fifth myth is that migrant workers “’eat up’ the budget intended for the social defense of the native population.” But in Russia today, migrants don’t have access to most government services, and when they are sick, for example, they must use more expensive commercial medical assistance or go without treatment.
And the sixth myth is that “the money migrants send home represents the outflow of financial means which harms the economy of the Russian Federation.” Migrants work hard, often in conditions little better than slavery, for the money they have and thus are fully entitled to send it to help their families, however much some Russians object to their doing so.
Moreover, while the transfer payments they make may amount to 11-12 million U.S. dollars a year, that amount is only a small fraction of their contribution to Russia’s GDP. Were they to disappear, the paper says, Russians would suffer at least as much as the migrants, an outcome Russian ought to reflect upon more often.
But playing on the fears of Russians about migrant workers and exploiting these myths about them remain very much part of the Russian political scene. Indeed, today, the FMS announced that it would soon be using drone aircraft to track down illegal migrants who may be sneaking into Russia or living in shanty towns (

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