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Attacks Against Minorities Up in Russia

Russian police are reporting a significant surge in racial crimes in the last year, directed primarily at people from the Caucasus and Central Asia who come to Moscow and other cities in search of jobs. Human rights groups are warning of a new wave of xenophobia in Russia, especially as the country's economy sinks deeper into recession.

27-year old Noel Maganga from Gabon was stabbed in the back seven times and left to die on a freezing street as he walked out of the Moscow subway in late January. A student at Russia's Peoples Friendship University, he is now being treated at Moscow clinic, undergoing a painful recovery.

He suspects his attackers belonged to one of Russia's ultra-nationalist groups, and he wants the government to do something about it.

"Safety is not 100 percent guaranteed in any country, that's clear," Maganga said. "But what I would ask from the Russian government, I would ask that the government understand and know about what's going on, the aggression against the foreigners, the Africans, Asians, etc. The government should explore why there is such an aggression, and find a way, maybe by recruiting more people, to put them in place to assure the safety of foreigners in the country."

According to the Moscow-based race-relations research center "SOVA", 96 non-Russians were killed last year and more than 400 wounded in attacks by members of various nationalist organizations.

Alexander Verkhovsky is the director of "SOVA." He says the number of hate crimes far outweighs the number of prosecutions and convictions. "It's a very serious disproportion. There are many reasons for that: there's not enough legislation, not enough professional skills of investigators, sometimes some police officers sympathize more or less with these neo-nazis, prefer not to cooperate with them, but to investigate something else instead of these crimes."

Still, some do get punished. Members of a group who uploaded video of their attacks were convicted in December of killing 18 people, all minorities.

Nationalist groups often post videos of their crimes on the Internet using anonymous access from Internet cafes. One video, for example, shows the apparent murders of two migrant workers from Central Asia.

The rise of hate crimes in Russia comes amidst an influx of migrant workers. Analysts say 5 - 12 million migrants from the former Soviet republics are working in Russia today, most of them illegally. Some think the migrants are taking the jobs of Russian citizens.

Alison Gill is the head of the Human Rights Watch office in Moscow. She says authorities are having a difficult time curtailing the activities of nationalist groups. "I think it's simple enough to say that to a certain extent the government is at a loss on how to deal with the rise in nationalism and the rise in neo-nazi groups and skinhead groups," she said.

She says that in January alone, 16 hate-motivated crimes in Moscow were identified in Moscow. And she says this figure may grow as the Russian economy sinks deeper into a recession.

"We need to hear loudly and clearly from the government that pride in the country, pride in Russia is not the same as violence or hatred against others," Gill said. "The government needs to say that crimes, that murders, and attacks on foreigners is not going to be tolerated."

But the Russian government has remained largely silent on this issue. Instead, in December, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin recommended the number of migrant workers from the former Soviet states working in Russia be cut in half, in response to the global financial crisis.