Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Central Asians Pay the Price in Moscow
Central Asians living in Russia are still suffering from police intimidation and extortion even though Moscow has abolished a law enforcement practice that largely contributed to the problems.
Moscow’s mayor Yury Luzhkov, in an effort to curb official corruption, last month revoked the so-called passport system for non-nationals - an identity check procedure, which, over the years, the city’s police have abused.
Officers had turned the system into their main source of income, stopping visitors at markets, metro exits and in the streets, and often intimidating them into handing over bribes.
The mayor’s decree dictates that the city police can now only detain individuals and demand to see their documents if a crime is being committed.
But IWPR has discovered that while corrupt police officers face a series of punishments ranging from reprimands to instant dismissal if caught, many are still harassing members of the public.
Central Asian citizens are among the most vulnerable for two main reasons – their ethnicity makes them conspicuous and they don’t always carry all the legal paperwork necessary for their stay.
Russian sociologist Alexander Raznitsyn explained, “People who visit Moscow need so many documents that it’s enough to make your head spin.
“They require registration, an immigration card, working permit, passport, visa, and many other things. It’s understandable that many people going about their daily business may not be carrying all of these – and the police exploit this.”
Kazak student Aidar Alikhanov told IWPR that he was stopped by police and asked to show his documents.
Well-used to such requests, Alikhanov placed 50 rubles (1.70 US dollars) in his documents, and was allowed to go. “The passport system has been abolished, but they still stop me on the street and check my papers,” he said. “They know that it’s quicker and easier for people to hand over money than spend time trying to prove their innocence.”
Turkmen citizen Inna Leonova, a Moscow university student, said, “I don’t look Russian, so the police often stop me.
“Once, I was stopped twice in the space of three minutes by different officers. I had forgotten my immigration card that day because I was in a hurry, so I had to give them 100 rubles before they would let me go.”
Central Asians comprise around half of all former Soviet citizens now living and working in Russia.
While Kazaks mainly study at Russian tertiary institutes, or are involved in business, many Uzbeks and Tajiks come to Moscow to earn money as a cheap labour force. “I am often stopped at the market where I work, and when I’m on my way home to my apartment,” said Samarkand native Forkhod Khobibullaev.
IWPR has learned that traders from Kyrgyzstan routinely face difficulties with the police. “I am a shuttle trader and don’t stay in Moscow for more than two days, so I don’t need registration,” said Bolotbek Janibekov from Bishkek. “But I still face problems over the weight of my goods and documents. I almost always have to buy my way out.”
Analysts believe that the abolition of the passport system has done little to improve matters, and relations between the Moscow police and people from Central Asia remain frosty.
But some of the latter believe that they only have themselves to blame for the police harassment. Kazak citizen Isabek Jumanov said, “If you have the necessary documents, you can walk around quite calmly and not be afraid.
“Visitors to the city only have themselves to blame. If they don’t bother to carry their documents and are happy to give bribes, they are teaching the police that they can extort money from every second Central Asian.”
Erban Sabitov, a Kazak businessman, is however hopeful that the police will reform. “[After the first few dismissals] the police will become afraid of losing their jobs - and will think twice before asking people for their documents,” he told IWPR.
Erbol Jumagulov is an independent journalist in Almaty
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