BISHKEK -- Central Asian migrants in Russia, many of whom from Kyrgyzstan, are heading home as they continue to be victims of violence, injustice and racism, according to human rights defenders.
Kyrgyz citizens, especially those living in the country's rural south, often see working abroad as a solution to poverty. They migrate to Russia hoping to earn money to build houses in Kyrgyzstan, to buy livestock or to get married.
Male migrants most frequently work on construction sites, while women find jobs in the service industry, working in restaurants and garment factories, as well as in private homes as domestics.
However, they often face prejudice in Russia, evidenced by unfair arrests and unpaid wages, among other rights abuses.
For example, in September, police in Moscow arrested dozens of citizens of Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan without cause, holding them at the Perovo police station, according to Russian human rights activist Valentina Chupik.
"Only three out of 112 detainees committed any violations; the rest were simply detained on [the basis of their nationality]," she said, 24.kg reported September 21.
"The average period of detention was 8.5 hours," she said. "Some were kept for more than a day without food and water, and some were kicked out within 10 minutes because I was there and called [human rights groups and news media]."
Kyrgyzstan's State Migration Service reported on September 14 that its office in Russia had received 1,786 appeals for help this year so far, including 551 related to unpaid wages.
Taking advantage of migrants
Bir Duino Kyrgyzstan, a Bishkek-based human rights NGO, in a report published in April 2017 told the disturbing story of Aina, a Kyrgyz woman from Sretenka village, Chui Province, who moved to Russia in 2015 for work.
Aina, alongside other migrants, worked at a commercial laundry -- which washed hotel bedsheets and towels -- in Moscow.
"The boss was a very bad person," Aina said in the report. "If a worker was sick for even one day, or late to work, he beat him [or or her]. We worked nights, from 8pm to 8am. We had only two days off a month, and [the laundry] never paid us overtime."
She earned 25,000 RUB ($460) a month, according to Aina.
The employer did not sign an employment contract with her and refused to pay salaries on time, prompting the workers to go on strike, she said.
"One evening we came to work but did not start working," she said. "When the manager arrived, one guy asked him, 'Why aren't we getting paid?' ... He brutally beat three guys ... They didn't defend themselves, because they were afraid the manager would call the police."
Female migrants working abroad face additional risks, including sexual assault, particularly if they work in isolation -- a common situation for domestics in private homes -- according to a report by the International Federation for Human Rights and Kyrgyz partners Bir Duino Kyrgyzstan and Mekhr Shavkat.
Migrants have reported cases of forced labour and sexual exploitation in Russia, where employers can seize migrants' passports and keep them from leaving, according to the report.
A lack of employment contracts
Some 38% of the population of Leilek District, Batken Province, work in Russia, said Gulnara Derbisheva, director of the NGO Insan Leilek, citing a survey conducted last year by her organisation. Insan Leilek works to facilitate civil society in southern Kyrgyzstan.
One in three families includes a migrant who left for Russia, she told Caravanserai.
About 40 residents of Leilek District who returned from Russia recently complained that they had not received their salaries for a six-month period or even for a year, she said.
"In addition, not too long ago, Russian authorities made the laws more stringent for the ... registration process of non-citizens, after which many of our migrants could not formalise their stay in Russia and were compelled to return home," Derbisheva said.
Going unpaid is one of the main problems that migrant labourers from Kyrgyzstan endure in Russia, said Aida Baijumanova of Bishkek, deputy chairwoman of Bir Duino Kyrgyzstan.
"In addition, [Russian employers] violate local labour law: migrants are forced to work up to 12 hours a day and even work on the weekends," she told Caravanserai.
"Many migrants from Kyrgyzstan have complained that most Russian employers refuse to sign employment contracts with them," she said.
The absence of a contract strips migrants of their ability to defend their rights in disputes with an employer -- for example, when that employer refuses to pay salaries, Baijumanova said. Workers who lack a contract may not legally reside in an apartment, receive health care or enrol their children in local schools.
An agreement made as part of joining the Eurasian Economic Union was supposed to ease conditions for Kyrgyz migrants staying in Russia, but in practice many difficulties exist, she said.
"For example, the number of police raids where our compatriots get arrested is not going down," she said. "[Police] continuously check [individuals'] documents on the street."
Migrants in Russia last year staged multiple demonstrations to protest the raids, she added.
But Russian authorities do not care about the problems experienced by Kyrgyz migrant workers and are in no rush to ensure protection of their rights, she said.