TASHKENT -- Central Asian migrants in Russia are facing new restrictions and would be disproportionately affected by the new COVID-19 quick response (QR) code mandates, say observers.
Russian citizens who have been vaccinated, recovered from COVID-19 or have a negative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test can receive a QR code.
Fierce resistance to QR code "passes" shielded the migrants for months, but new measures are now becoming a reality.
While Russia's Duma (the lower chamber of parliament) on Monday (December 13) shelved a bill that would compel airline and train passengers to show a QR code, parliament Thursday passed the first reading of a bill that would require patrons to show QR codes to visit restaurants, shopping centres, museums and concerts.
The measure, if enacted, would be in place from February to June 2022.
For Central Asian migrants, the proposals raised concerns over vaccine access, with many reporting difficulties in obtaining QR codes.
Russia has required that foreign citizens show only a negative PCR test. Those entering the country from Armenia, Belarus, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Azerbaijan may use the "Travel without COVID-19" app.
But many migrant workers want a vaccination rather than hoping for good news every time they take a PCR test.
Babur Suyunov, 28, an Uzbek construction worker who has been working in Moscow for six months, told Caravanserai that he is turned away no matter where he goes for vaccine because he is a foreigner and a migrant worker.
"I don't understand the Russian authorities' logic. If I catch COVID, I could infect Russian citizens. There are millions of people like me here," he said.
"All I know is that the disease doesn't care about your nationality. We also have the right to be vaccinated, and the Russian government needs to hear that," Suyunov said.
"There's no state infrastructure for foreign citizens, or the option of getting QR codes through a simplified procedure," Bakhrom Ismailov, a lawyer from Moscow, told Caravanserai.
"People who get vaccinated need to go through a complicated registration process on the government service website, and this website doesn't always work," he said.
"As you know, even Russian citizens run into technical problems when they try to get QR codes. It's twice as hard for foreigners," said Ismailov.
The lack of vaccine access comes as Russian politicians put forth increasingly xenophobic proposals targeting Central Asian migrants.
In November, Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin issued an order to reduce the number of migrants working on construction projects in the Russian capital, claiming that certain sites required "people of a different calibre" who deserve "different [higher] wages".
Alexander Bastrykin, the chairman of Russia's Investigative Committee, in November proposed introducing a genome registry for all migrants from Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) countries.
The proposal would require the mandatory genomic registration of foreign citizens who receive a permit to work in Russia, as part of an effort to counter an alleged migrant crime wave.
"Such measures ... will help put up an additional barrier to block criminal elements from infiltrating our labour market, while law enforcement agencies will be able to more successfully solve crimes committed by them," Bastrykin said, as quoted by Russian publication Novaya Gazeta.
The proposed establishment of a genome registry for migrant workers violates human rights and is an invasion of citizens' privacy, said Abdurahman Tashanov, an Uzbek human rights activist from Tashkent
In actual practice, genome registries are used for criminals, he said.
"Governments differ on where human rights end and security begins," said Tashanov. "For example, security is a good excuse for regimes like the Russian Federation -- they [those regimes] have no use for human rights."
"Requiring information like fingerprints and DNA results, which constitute important personal information about an individual, certainly runs counter to the concept of human rights," he said.
Migrants who want work are already facing new entry rules that stigmatise them as an alleged crime and public health risk.
The Russian government starting December 29 is requiring migrants who intend to work to submit fingerprints and be deemed medically qualified -- by, among other things, passing a human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) test and confirming they do not have a drug addiction -- within 30 days of entering the country.
Racism in Russia
Over the last 30 years, Russia has been the main destination country for Uzbek migrant workers.
In the first three quarters of 2021 alone, some 3.5 million Uzbeks worked in Russia, including almost 1.5 million officially, according to Migrantvisa.ru.
They and migrants from other Central Asian countries face prejudice and rights violations.
On November 18, the Russian Public Opinion Research Centre (VTsIOM) published the results of a Russia-wide poll on attitudes toward labour immigration.
Russians' attitudes toward migrant workers are mixed. Forty-one per cent of Russians view them negatively, while 28% view them positively.
Meanwhile, 44% of Russian citizens say that immigrants create competition on the labour market and "take jobs away from local residents".
Those attitudes persist even though migrant workers take jobs that Russians no longer want, such as cleaning subway stations and bathrooms, driving buses and constructing buildings.