BISHKEK -- Russian law enforcement bodies are systematically violating the rights of Central Asian migrants and subjecting them to violence and extortion, human rights activists say.
Central Asian migrants who shared their stories with Caravanserai spoke about life in Russia, which for many of them has turned into a "nightmare".
The Russian people have a negative attitude towards migrants, while Russian police hunt them down, say the migrants.
Hostility every day
Mairambek Osmonov, 33, in March returned to his hometown of Sokuluk, Kyrgyzstan, from Moscow. He was one of many Central Asian migrants who went to Russia with the hope of supporting his family. Now he works as a driving instructor in Bishkek.
Residents of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan often choose to go to Russia because they speak Russian. Their linguistic knowledge enables them to take low-status positions that locals reject -- such as construction workers, freight handlers, janitors, guards and similar occupations.
Russia is supposed to give citizens of Kyrgyzstan preferential treatment because both countries belong to the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), a regional economic bloc co-ordinated by Moscow, Osmonov said. In theory, shared EEU membership guarantees Kyrgyz the right to live and work unhindered anywhere in Russia.
He swore he would never return to Russia.
"Even if we could stand the unfriendliness of Russians toward us, the police, who literally rob and degrade us, don't let us live in peace," he told Caravanserai. "It's better that I earn less but [at least] in my own country."
Osmonov said that in Moscow he had to hide from law enforcement all the time even though his documents were all in order.
Police officers used to illegally confiscate his documents and would return them only after he bribed them, he said.
"When I saw a patrol car, I usually ducked into the nearest [apartment] courtyard," he said. "They easily figure out their victims -- a Kyrgyz or an Uzbek. For them, we're a cash cow."
Large-scale human rights violations
Police officers in Russia take documents from migrants as a form of extortion, said Valentina Chupik of Moscow, executive director of Tong Jahoni, an international human rights organisation.
Police take the documents to "sell" them back to migrants. If they take a migrant to a police station, "buying back" the documents costs about four times as much, she told 24.kg in May.
Chupik described detention centres where Central Asian migrants are usually kept as "concentration camps".
"The person is put into a basement, a cubicle, a tiny cell, without any furniture, with vermin, without food or water or the chance to go to the bathroom," she said. "They take their phones away ... [and] ... hold them for days, so that the migrants want to ransom themselves."
She told 24.kg about a shocking case in which Russian police neglect almost killed a diabetic Kyrgyz migrant worker.
Patrolmen detained the man as he left a pharmacy after purchasing insulin. Even though his documents were in order, they hauled him to the police station. They took away his insulin and threw him into a cell for a day and a half.
He went into a diabetic coma.
"Do you think that the police called paramedics? No. They took the guy out and put him on a bench; then they went to a court where the judge, without looking [at the documents], stamped a decision to deport him," Chupik said.
"The young man did not regain consciousness until the second day and he was in critical condition," she said.
Increasing violence, corruption
"Police in Russia are the most corrupt agency [in the country]," said Chupik, a specialist on immigration policy with a focus on providing free legal and social aid for migrants. "Nazism is cultivated in the police for the purpose of extracting corrupt income."
Chupik herself moved from Uzbekistan to Moscow, where she provides free assistance to migrant workers who have had trouble with the police.
She gets about 40 calls per day, the majority of which are complaints about illegal detention.
"If a migrant is not a blue-eyed blond, particularly if his eyes have an Asian slant, a policeman will stop him," she said, noting that law enforcement personnel do not have the right to detain migrants without cause.
Studies monitoring migrants' rights in Russia have shown growing violence by law enforcement agencies and corruption appearing under the pretext of fighting extremism and terrorism, according to Tolekan Ismailova of Bishkek, vice president of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH).
"Migrants [in Russia] are having their ... freedom of movement and freedom of choice of residence taken away from them," she told Caravanserai.
The intimidation and raids directed by police against Central Asian migrants make clear the large-scale violations of human rights and civil liberties in Russia, added Ismailova.