'Climate of fear' for Moscow's foreign workers after riots

 
One of our Observers filmed the violent clashes that broke out Sunday in southern Moscow during anti-immigration protests. This tension actually benefits some business owners, who exploit immigrants, as a second of our Observers in Moscow explains.
 
The clashes, which included numerous acts of vandalism and assaults, occurred following a protest attended by several thousand people in the Biroulivo neighbourhood of southern Moscow. They were protesting against the deadly stabbing last Thursday of a young Russian man by a man local media described as a “non-slavic” immigrant from central Asia or the Caucasus. Since Friday, local TV stations and newspapers have been running a photo of the alleged murderer at the request of local authorities.

“An immigrant was able to take refuge inside but another one was beaten in front of the doors”

The demonstration descended into violence as protesters started to attack a mall that employs many immigrants. Nikita Zuev, a student who lives in the neighbourhood, filmed the destruction of the mall’s entrance and later photographed the damage.
 
On Sunday, many local residents gathered at the spot where the young man was killed; there were even politicians. A rumour had been going around that a guard in “Biruza”, a department store, knew the killer. Suddenly, a protester called for everyone to march to the store. An immigrant was able to take refuge inside the store but another one was beaten in front of the doors. I was scared but I continued to film.
 
 
The protesters were primarily nationalists and I think some were drunk. The police were on the other side of the street. They only came in and arrested the three or four most aggressive people, but only after the damage was done.
Here, the majority of people hate “non-Slavs”. Ethnic tensions run very high and people no longer trust the justice system. These days, nationalists are on the lookout for any and all immigrants in order to mete out summary “justice”.
 
 
I understand this resentment because there are many safety problems here. But they went too far by attacking the store. And I was angry that they attacked this taxi [see the picture above] because I know the driver, and his car has already been stolen in the past.
 
In the video, nationalist protesters can be heard chanting slogans such as “Russia for Russians”, “White power”, or even “Allah Akbar”, which is an attempt to stigmatise Muslim immigrants from the Caucasus.
 
Several streets away, at practically the same time, a vegetable warehouse was destroyed for the same reasons. According to the Russian media, police detained roughly 1,200 people and launched an investigation.

“As long as xenophobes continue their campaign of intimidation, migrants will not dare stand up for their rights”

On Monday, the atmosphere in southern Moscow remained very tense. Ashot Ayrapetyan runs the Centre for Interethnic Cooperation in Moscow, an organisation that works with the United Nations, among others. He says that most immigrants living in the area refuse to speak to the media because they fear being targeted. According to him, this distrust of immigrants benefits certain businesses.
 
Moscow has a high concentration of wealth and power, and corruption is rampant. [Editor’s note: Transparency International ranks Russia 133 out of 174 in its corruption perceptions index, with 1 being the least corrupt]. And the inflow of Armenians, Azerbaijanis, Tajiks, Uzbeks, and Kyrgyzstanis can be explained by the fact that it can be very profitable to hire non-Russians, especially in construction and small businesses. Employers declare normal salaries, but only pay a third of that to their employees, keep a third for themselves, and keep the last third to pay off the authorities. Most immigrants are uneducated and accept the hardest and lowest-paying jobs in order to support their families. As long as xenophobes continue their campaign of intimidation, they will not dare stand up for their most basic rights.
 
Violence in Moscow on Sunday.
 
You must understand that the demographic situation in Russia is catastrophic. [Editor’s note: After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia experienced a steep population decline; the authorities have launched numerous campaigns to spur birth rates]. We absolutely need immigrants to come work in our factories and in our fields. But we need a real immigrant policy, so that immigrants’ rights will be ensured. Nowadays, most immigrants live in ghettos torn apart by delinquency, and the already-tense relationship with nationalists is getting increasingly worse.
 
We predicted that something like this would happen. In December 2010, we had written a letter to the then-mayor of Moscow warning him that if nothing were done to stem extremism, ethnic conflict would increase. We never received any reply. In 2009, during the World Conference against Racism, we suggested special laws on tolerance and policies to support nonprofits working on this issue. The government ignored all of this.
 
The interior ministry condemned the recent violence. Meanwhile, a veritable manhunt was launched to find the young man’s murderer, with a nearly 23,000-euro reward for anyone who can help the police find him. And in response to the protests, Moscow’s mayor has launched a campaign to increase identity checks for immigrants.
Post written with Polina Myakinchenko and Ségolène Malterre.
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