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%.
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.