A new law in Russia bans foreigners from working as clerks in retail stores and markets. Foreigners are able to work as loaders, cleaners, wholesalers or managers, but they are not allowed to sell directly to the public. Russian officials say the new legislation is aimed at combating a shadow economy, but human rights and migrant groups say the new law is unfair and unworkable. Anya Ardayeva reports from Moscow.
Millions of migrant workers in Russia now find themselves out of a job.
For the past ten years, Khalimjon Akhmadaliyev, from Tajikistan, has worked 12 hours a day selling vegetables at various Moscow markets.
"It's unfair because so many people worked so hard to come here and earn bread to feed their families and their children,” he says. “My children study here, I need to bring them up. I don't know what to do next. I guess I will have to pull my kids out of school and return home."
In January, Russia passed a new law banning foreigners from selling alcohol and medicine throughout the country. It also, as of April 1st, banned foreigners from selling at markets. The ban followed a number of troubling incidents – the largest, a riot in the northern Russian town of Kondopoga. Two local men died in a fight with ethnic Chechens.
Now, human rights activists say the bill might create more racial tension in Russia. For months, anti-racism campaigners have warned of growing racist sentiment in the country, especially after thousands of people in Moscow and other Russian cities last November participated in a so-called "Russian March," organized by the ultra-nationalist "Movement Against Illegal Immigration"
Nikita Mkrtchyan is the chief expert for immigration analysis at Moscow's Economic Forecast Institute. He says that by imposing the new law, government is simply trying to boost ratings in an election year.
"This law has been passed because of some ideas that have something to do with pre-election period, to show that the power is meeting the demands of the people,” he says. “If the people do not like seeing foreign people at markets, if they don't want to see foreign faces at the markets, then the power does everything it can to get rid of those people."
Mkrtchyan also says this policy can have damaging consequences for the country's economy. While there are a million legal migrants working in Russia, Russian media reports suggest that the number of illegals is estimated at up to 12 million. Many come from much poorer countries, and often take jobs that Russian nationals do not want.
"Due to our economic growth, we will soon face a lack of labor resources everywhere. Of course we can't solve this without immigrants," says Mkrtchyan.
In October, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that the markets were often run by criminals with "ethnic flavor." He called on the government to take measures to "protect Russian producers and the local population."
Mktrchyan also is concerned that the new ban will boost corruption among bureaucrats and police as desperate foreigners offer bribes to dodge the new rules. Corruption is already rampant in Russia. Last year, the anti-corruption organization Transparency International ranked Russia as one of the most corrupt countries in the world.