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Russia Scapegoats Migrants in Economic Downturn


For years, Russia has drawn migrant workers from former Soviet republics with struggling economies. But, as Russia reels from the global economic crisis, many of those migrants are not only being laid off, they are also being victimized by Russians who blame foreigners for their current difficulties. Among the hardest hit are migrants from Tajikistan.

Searching for work in Russia

Widespread unemployment in his native Tajikistan drove 51-year-old Safarbek Khazradkulov to find work as an underground cable assembler in Moscow. But the project came to a halt in October, with the global economic crisis.

Khazradkulov says workers were paid in September and October and were promised some of October's pay in November. He says they usually had been paid on the 20th of each month.

No payment for labor only promissory notes

The Tajik migrant carries an IOU [promissory note] from the Universal Construction Company, signed by his supervisor, Valeriy Efimov, promising to pay October's compensation no later than January 31st. But payment has been postponed until March 20th.

Construction projects throughout Russia have stalled and many workers are owed back pay. Valeriy Efimov told VOA his company cannot pay Khazradkulov and his Russian employees until it gets funds from the developer.

The Tajik Migrant Workers Union in Moscow keeps a thick file on members who have not been paid for completed work in Russia. Director Karomat Sharipov says Russia cannot do without the cheap labor provided by what he claims are two-million Tajik migrants in the country.

Sharipov says, without the migrants, all private-sector firms, especially construction companies, would all close for a simple reason -- no Tajiks would mean no one to do the dirty work; to hand carry bricks to the 15th floor.

Migrant overcrowded housing

Migrants often sleep in squalid, overcrowded communal housing -- some in the open air under bridges. Since his layoff, Safarbek Khazradkulov, a father of six, says he has relied on Tajik friends for temporary lodging -- and also on the kindness of strangers.

Khazradkulov says Russians are good people who will always help others, adding that Russian and migrants understand one another."

Calls to limit unqualified foreign labor

But even before the global crisis hit, an opinion poll by the Russian Public Research Center, last June, found more than half of those surveyed said Russia should limit the number of unqualified foreign workers.

The SOVA human rights organization and others report about 300 violent attacks against migrants, last year. Nearly one-third were fatal, including the December decapitation of a young Tajik national in Moscow.

SOVA Deputy Director Galina Kozhevnikova says many Russians accept what she says are myths that migrants take away increasingly precious jobs and drive down wages.

Kozhevnikova says, as a rule, Russians find out the salary and simply decline to take a low-paying job. She says the Muscovite does not take a job for less than $300 a month, because it is difficult to survive in the city for that kind of money.

However, migrants have survived on it and many send remittances to families back home. But, Safarbek Khazradkulov is having a tough time on no salary at all. He hopes to get finally paid for his work so he can at least return to Tajikistan.


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