Saidakrami Murodalii Rachabalizoda suspected of taking part in the attack of a concert hall that killed 137 people, the deadliest attack in Europe to have been claimed by the Islamic State jihadist group, is escorted by Russian law enforcement officers prior to his pre-trial detention hearing at the Basmanny District Court in Moscow on March 24, 2024.
Saidakrami Murodalii Rachabalizoda suspected of taking part in the attack of a concert hall that killed 137 people, the deadliest attack in Europe to have been claimed by the Islamic State jihadist group, is escorted by Russian law enforcement officers prior to his pre-trial detention hearing at the Basmanny District Court in Moscow on March 24, 2024. © TATYANA MAKEYEVA/AFP via Getty Images

Tajik Migrants Brace for Moscow’s Ire

Their situation has been deteriorating for the past few years, but the Crocus concert hall atrocity has accelerated events.

Wednesday, 3 April, 2024

Tajik nationals in Russia are feeling the backlash following the March 22 terrorist attack in Moscow that killed nearly 150 people, with fears that Russian officials plan to instrumentalise already widespread prejudice against labour migrants.

Russian law enforcers detained four Tajik citizens in connection with the attack at the Crocus City Hall, when armed men burst into the concert venue ahead of a gig by a popular rock band before setting fire to the venue.

Moscow initially claimed that Ukraine was behind the attack, although failed to present any credible evidence to support this theory. It appears most likely that the attack was carried out by supporters of Islamic State (IS). On the night of March 24, Telegram channels associated with IS published a video of the Crocus attack, filmed in first person mode and showing gunmen with blurred faces shooting people in the concert hall lobby.

Many questions remain as to how Russian security agencies not only failed to prevent the atrocity - especially given that the US warned of an imminent attack on the venue – and also did not apprehend those escaping from the scene of the crime. The main suspects were only detained after driving almost 400 kilometres to the western Kaluga region.

Confessions given by the detainees were clearly obtained under torture; Russian security forces circulated videos including one in which a suspect’s ear was cut off and another in which a man is shown being electrocuted.

As of March 28, 11 people had been arrested in connection with the terrorist attack. In Tajikistan, nine residents of the western region of Vakhdat were detained on suspicion of having ties to those accused of the Crocus attack. The brother of one of the detainees was already wanted by Tajikistan authorities on suspicion of belonging to ISIS.

For now, it seems clear that Russian authorities will try to exploit the situation for their own benefit, not least as a distraction from other woes. In the wake of the attack, Putin’s approval ratings rose sharply. Although polling in an authoritarian dictatorship should be treated with some scepticism, the boost is plausible - and this is not the first time that terrorist attacks have boosted Putin’s popularity.

The attack also sidelined any discussions about the recent presidential elections and questions about Putin’s legitimacy, not to mention the death of detained opposition leader Alexander Navalny.

And it has provided an opportunity to further ramp up rhetoric against labour migrants in general and Tajiks in particular.


Over the past week, police officers conducted mass raids in various Russian cities targeting areas with high numbers of migrants. In St Petersburg alone, the courts ordered the deportation of more than 400 foreign nationals.

On March 26, Russian prosecutor general Igor Krasnov announced that the number of crimes committed in Russia by migrants in 2023 had increased by 75 per cent.

On the same day, according to the TASS news agency, Putin instructed the prosecutor general’s office to work on developing further preventive measures on migration. The president declared that this issue was a worry for millions of Russian citizens and needed to be kept under control.

State Duma Chairman Vyacheslav Volodin also ordered the creation of an inter-factional working group to analyse legislation, putting migration policy as a priority.

Human rights activist Valentina Chupik, who provides free counselling to migrants working in Russia, told Mediazona that in the first two days after the Crocus attack she received more than 2,500 calls from foreign citizens in Russia. More than half the messages concerned police raids and illegal detentions.

Tajik migrants are being singled out for particularly harsh treatment. In one incident, unknown persons set fire to a market belonging to Tajiks in the city of Blagoveshchensk, an incident which the municipality attributed to “ethnic grounds”. In Kaluga, in western Russia, unknown assailants attacked three migrants from Tajikistan, hospitalising one of them.

The Tajik embassy in Russia has urged its nationals to refrain from participating in public events wherever possible. The country’s ministry of labour, migration and employment recorded an outflow of migrants from Russia, with the ministry’s own representative office in Russia received threatening messages.

Deputy minister of labour, Shakhnoza Nodiri, told TASS that there was “panic among Tajik citizens, many want to leave” and that the number of leaving exceeded those entering – although she stressed that this would be a temporary phenomenon.

Travel agencies in Dushanbe told the media that the number of those wishing to buy tickets to Russia – via either land or air - had noticeably decreased.


The situation has clear implications for Tajikistan domestic policies. Most Tajik labour migrants head to Russia. According to the ministry of labour of Tajikistan, more than 627,000 out of 652,000 migrant workers went to Russia in 2023.

It is inevitable that a significant number of migrants will return, and jobs must be urgently created for them. Otherwise, social tensions and crime may increase.

It is also plausible to predict a decline in Russian exports to Tajikistan, primarily of fuel and lubricants. These Russian goods need to be replaced and the Tajik economy needs real liberalisation and reform to attract investors.

The Russian authorities also seem to have an interest in exploiting the dramatically rising xenophobia.

Given the ongoing fighting in Ukraine, secondary mobilisation in Russia appears inevitable. Migrants are likely to be one of the main sources of replenishment of the Russian army, and a significant part of the domestic constituency will prefer them to bear the burden.

There have been numerous reports of labour migrants being detained and asked to choose between deportation and a five-year ban on returning to Russia - or consenting to fight in Ukraine with the Russian forces. 

For Tajik citizens, this is a particularly grim choice. Tajikistan considers the participation of its citizens in wars outside the country a crime, and they would face imprisonment for these actions back home.

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