Human Rights

Russian animosity toward migrants grows despite demographic crisis

By Kanat Altynbayev


Despite the fact that Central Asian laborers fill key jobs that most Russians are unwilling to do amid a major demographic and economic crisis, a recent report says there is a surge of hostility and intolerance towards migrants. Seen here is a Russian man in a dismal communal flat in St. Petersburg in 2018. [Olga Maltseva/AFP]

ALMATY -- More native Russians are harboring xenophobic sentiments, according to a recent study carried out by the Moscow-based think-tank Levada Centre.

The centre surveyed more than 1,600 respondents over the age of 18 across Russia during the last week of August, according to the report published September 18.

About 23% consider the presence of migrants and ethnic minorities in the country to be a key problem, an increase from about 17%-18% in 2015-2017.

A full 72% -- versus 58% in 2017 -- say that the government should limit the number of migrant workers. The number of Russians holding the opposite opinion fell from 14% in July 2018 to 9%.


Kazakh labour migrants from different regions work in Almaty. [Kanat Altynbayev]

In Russia, migrants typically take menial jobs as construction workers, repairmen, market vendors and drivers, for example. Russians rarely apply for such jobs.

However, the number of respondents who claimed that their relatives were willing to perform the work of migrants increased from 57% in 2017 to 64%.

Meanwhile, the number of respondents who want to limit the permissible length of stay for Central Asians also increased from 19% in 2017 to 32% in 2019.

Hostility toward migrants

Migrants often feel like second-class citizens because of local residents' attitudes, said Mairambek Osmonov, a resident of Sokuluk, Chui Province, Kyrgyzstan, who returned home from Russia in the spring of 2018.

"Russians like to call us various offensive words, making it clear that we are unwanted guests in their country," said Osmonov.

A sharp increase in xenophobia against migrants from Kyrgyzstan coincided with the adoption of a strict anti-migrant law in Yakutia, also known as the Sakha Republic.

In March, Aisen Nikolayev, head of the Sakha Republic (Yakutia) in eastern Russia, signed a decree banning in 2019 the hiring of migrants in most of the vocations where Central Asians tend to work. It applied to production of food, beverages and clothing; education; health care; and passenger and freight transport.

The move was part of a backlash that swept Sakha after police arrested three Kyrgyz men for the March 17 rape of a woman in Yakutsk, the capital of Sakha. The three were convicted September 11.

In Yakutsk, several beatings of Kyrgyz nationals working as public-transit bus drivers, market vendors and café servers occurred afterward. In addition, the Yakutsk police began random raids in public places to "verify" the permits and registration of Kyrgyz citizens.

After Nikolayev's decree, working conditions in Sakha for Kyrgyz people became significantly more difficult, and many lost their jobs, Abdygany Shakirov, chair of the inter-regional NGO Kyrgyzskoe Edinenie (Kyrgyz Unity), said in an interview with radio station Govorit Moskva.

Migrants and their families who have already had a chance to establish themselves and adjust to Sakha have suffered the most, said Shakirov.

Hostility towards migrants from Central Asia has not been limited to Sakha.

Last year, a wave of brutal attacks on Uzbek and Tajik migrants living in Russia was reported, raising concerns about increasing xenophobia and targeted aggression against anyone who looks "non-Slavic".

In Russia, the situation with Central Asian migrants can be characterised as one with increased violence and corruption against them, Tolekan Ismailova, a Bishkek resident and vice president of the Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), said in May.

"In the meantime, the Russian authorities continue to adopt anti-democratic laws pertaining to those who come looking for work," she said.

Demographic crash looms for Russia

In recent years, Russia's attractiveness as a host country has declined in the eyes of migrants.

Kyrgyz migrant workers have been likelier to choose neighbouring Kazakhstan, which has a steady demand for labour, said Bishkek-based economist Elmira Suranchiyeva.

"This is especially true for the construction sector, which has found a second wind with the launch of new state-subsidised mortgage programmes," she said.

Kazakhstan has more favourable working conditions for Kyrgyz migrant workers, who are "considered brothers here", and the relatively stable economy makes it possible to make plans for the future, Suranchiyeva said.

The influx of migrants into Russia in 2018 was the smallest in post-Soviet history, the official newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta (RG) reported on September 19. The lack of newcomers is occurring when the population badly needs working-age adults.

"According to experts at the Institute for Social Analysis and Forecasting of the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration (RANEPA), the number of people who came to Russia in 2018 decreased by 4% compared to 2017, and the number who left the country increased by 16.9%," RG reported.

The number of migrants registered has decreased by one-third, while the number of long-term residence permits issued has decreased by almost half, said the newspaper.

Russia needs migrants to compensate for rapid population decline resulting from "brain drain" to the West, Anatoly Vishnevsky, the director of the Institute of Demography at the National Research University Higher School of Economics in Moscow, told RG. A demographic crash is coming in the foreseeable future, he warned.

The main causes of the migration outflow are the economic crisis (caused by low oil and gas prices and international sanctions after Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea), the devaluation of the ruble and the concomitant drop in income, reported RG.

Do you like this article?

14 Comment(s)

Comment Policy * Denotes Required Field 1500 / 1500

Russia, headed by the little bunker czar, pursues chauvinist policies at the state level. These Orcs indeed need migrant workers. Honey is sweet, but the bee stings, while Van'ka the serf still can't get up off his knees ))


The Fascist and Nazi Russian people


Thesis 1, at start of article: "In Russia, migrants typically take menial jobs as construction workers, repairmen, market vendors and drivers, for example. Russians rarely apply for such jobs." Thesis 2, at end of article: "Russia needs migrants to compensate for rapid population decline resulting from "brain drain" to the West" Really? With a straight face? Russia is losing scientists and surgeons to the West, and thus Central Asian construction workers and street sweepers need to be imported to compensate for this? Truly GloboHomo logic has never been laid out in a clearer manner;)


The Russian economy would simply collapse without migrants. All their Russian Ivans can do is fart around


Fat chance it'll collapse. It has been "collapsing" for 30 years already. Those coming to Russia come from collapsed economies. If it's so rosy in your country, work there. No doubt, you can find a job.


That's because in the USSR, Russia built all profitable enterprises in Russia. And it was the Jews, Germans and Ukrainians who did so.


That's how we work. And you go f... yourselves with your skinheads.


They come to Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Krasnodar, and Khabarovsk where there's already enough workforce. It is necessary to ramp up control over migrants coming in and out and enforce more rigorous selection. They [Russians] don't want to pay their people. They need to pay their people more and hire migrants if they don't have enough money.


No, one can't partner with a Russian because he's Russian. There will be all sorts of disasters in Russia sooner or later. Let it be.


Don't partner [with Russians]. That means you have positioned yourself this way. Russian or not has nothing to do with it. It's about individuals. Look at your inner self. There's a black sheep in every flock...


That's because Russia is the most fascist country in the world; 80 percent of them are Nazis.


Did you calculate that yourself, or did someone give you a hint?..


It's been demonstrated by practice


It's as if we Nazis are forcing you to stay here. Crime is the only thing that grows when you are here. Central Asians commit 70% of all crimes.