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Central Asian Migrants Fleeced in Moscow
Migrant workers from Central Asia now face a new form of extortion at the hands of Moscow police. In a series of “phony deportations”, police have rounded up illegal workers but instead of sending them back to their homelands, they simply dumped them on deserted roads on the outskirts of the Russian capital.
Police still strip the illegal migrants of all the cash they have on them, an illegal practice common when real deportations occur, but they save on the cost of sending the detainees back to their home countries.
Shavkat Shukrullaev, 33, was among 20 men from Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan who were picked up by police on March 7. He has been working on building sites around Moscow for eight years, returning periodically to Uzbekistan with money for his family. Life as a migrant worker has never been easy, but recently it has become intolerable, he told IWPR.
"The Moscow law-enforcement agencies know that we all have fake immigration cards, and they exploit that to the hilt," he said. "But in the past, they simply took our money. Now they have started tormenting us."
The group was detained at a police station for three days, before a deportation order was issued.
"We signed some papers and resigned ourselves to going home," said 27-year-old Bolotbek Dyikanbaev, from Kyrgyzstan. "Then we were put on a bus to go to the airport."
However, about 25 kilometres outside Moscow the bus turned into a deserted road off the main highway. The group were ordered off, given their passports back, and the bus and police escort drove off.
"We didn’t have any cash, because the police had taken it all," said Dyikanbaev. "Fortunately, we were dumped only 15 km from the building site where we worked. So we walked all the way back."
For many, this was not the first such experience.
"This time we were lucky," said Shukrullaev. "The man we work for turned out to be a decent person. We offered our services again and he gave the police some money to leave us alone as long as we’re working for him. And he pays us properly, which is rare."
IWPR has learned that records at the police station where the group were held state that they were "deported to their place of residence", in other words whichever Central Asian country they come from.
"The fact that the documents say they were deported shows that funds were allocated to pay the deportation costs," said Anna Berezina, a lawyer at the human rights organisation Moscow Partnership. "If the guest workers didn't even make it as far as the airport, it’s not difficult to guess where that money went."
Berezina says there have been numerous similar episodes recently.
Migrant workers are vulnerable to such rackets because they often lack the right documents allowing them to live and work in Russia.
In theory, they have the right to acquire legal status, but in practice that is difficult. New arrivals must register with the authorities within three days, but migrant labourers cannot do this themselves. They must be registered by their landlords, which in most cases means their bosses since almost all of them live in hostel accommodation provided by their employers.
Moreover, when employers do supply their workers with immigration cards, the documents have often been faked. Newspapers are full of adverts for registration documents.
"Russian businessmen hire guest workers for profit,” said Polat Jamalov of the Moscow House of Nationalities, a body set up by the Moscow city government to look after the rights of ethnic minorities. “That is their main interest. They don’t want to waste time registering seasonal workers - especially since there are benefits to be gained from their illegal status."
Employers are often in league with the police, who are fully aware of which building sites employ unregistered workers, he added.
"Everyone knows about the behaviour of the Moscow law-enforcement agencies, but no one can do anything to stop them," said Berezina. "That is the most frightening thing about it. Russia has become a police state and human rights initiatives to help the victims have no effect whatsoever.
"Technically, the guest workers are criminals who have broken the immigration rules, so they cannot protect themselves. Illegal registration is worth millions. It's a business, controlled directly by the law-enforcement bodies.”
An IWPR survey of guest workers found that almost half the Central Asians employed on building sites have already experienced "deportation" to the forests around Moscow.
"We now sew money into a concealed pocket so when we end up in the forest we can wave down passing cars and offer the drivers some cash to take us back to our workplace," said Abduvahid Khojiev from Uzbekistan.
Russian law stipulates that illegal migrants have the right to three warnings, after which the immigration services can begin the deportation process. In practice, the system often provides a license for extortion.
"We warn every illegal migrant about deportation, and give him a fine," a senior police lieutenant within the Nagatin police department told IWPR. "Of course, we exploit the fact that migrants are scared of deportation from Russia, as this means a five-year ban on re-entering the country."
Central Asian migrants are desperate to stay, since even if they are at the bottom of the employment heap and subject to discrimination in Moscow, the wages they can earn here are still worth the hardship because life is so tough in their countries.
"I was detained at the police station three times within ten days, and then told that I would be deported," said Shukrullaev. "For us, the word deportation is synonymous with death, because if we really are deported, then we won’t be able to come back. Then we can no longer make a living, because you can’t make this kind of money in Uzbekistan."
But this time Shukrullaev remained in Russia. Deportation would have stopped him being a continuing source of income.
Erbol Jumagulov is an IWPR contributor in Moscow.
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