ALMATY -- Russia is set to implement a new law requiring migrants from Central Asia to submit fingerprints and facial photographs in addition to medical certificates affirming they are free from infectious diseases.
The law, which is expected to enter into force on December 29, introduces mandatory fingerprinting and photographing of foreigners travelling to Russia for employment or for personal visits for more than 90 days.
The measure requires migrant workers to undergo a series of examinations at medical clinics over the course of 30 days and receive certificates affirming that they are not drug addicts and do not have human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection or other infectious diseases.
If a migrant fails to appear at the medical facilities, then his or her stay in Russia will be cut short. If doctors find a drug addiction and/or HIV infection, Russia could expel the migrants in question.
While the fingerprinting and photographing requirements are one-time procedures, appointments with doctors are required for each new entry into Russia.
The law makes an exception for government officials, including diplomats travelling to Russia on official visits, and their family members.
Citizens of Belarus and children under the age of 6 are exempt from all these procedures.
The tightened entry requirements are aimed at improving the sanitary and epidaemiological situation and enhancing crime detection in the country, Russian authorities claim.
Racists in the Russian government
Migrant workers, however, see the new measures as further discrimination and racism directed against them.
Tokhir Yusupov from Dushanbe, who drives a taxi in Moscow, said he wonders why "humiliating [registration] procedures" have been introduced for Central Asians while Belarusians are exempt.
"Why is that? Do Belarusians, unlike us, not commit crimes and not contract infectious diseases?"
"I'll tell you why -- there are racists in the Russian government," he said.
Yusupov compared the new measures to widespread racism evident in property rentals throughout Russia.
Apartment owners often refuse to rent to Uzbeks or Tajiks, preferring to rent exclusively to Slavs, he said, pointing to tenant-wanted ads that openly state the requirement "Only Slavs".
"The introduction of toughened rules for entering Russia is the same racism that exists when Slavs get a green light, while people with a different eye shape and skin colour encounter numerous obstacles," said Yusupov. "Only this time, it's at the level of the state."
The new measures are part of the legal reform of Russia's migration policy, which will be implemented before 2025, said the Russian Interior Ministry (MVD) in October.
Ministry officials in recent months have struck an antagonistic tone in regard to Central Asian migrants.
"We will monitor foreigners' stay in Russia and improve preventive measures," First Deputy Interior Minister Alexander Gorovoy told reporters on October 11.
"Migrants will be informed [online] about the decisions made for them and about their need to take certain actions and the consequences for failing to take them," he said.
Migrant workers will sign a loyalty agreement, violating which "may result in loss of the right to stay in Russia", he added.
"This agreement represents a written commitment to abide by the rules and behavioural norms adopted in Russian society, to refrain from disrupting public order, from abusing the right to freedom of information, including attempts to discredit constitutionally significant moral and other values or the inclination to reject them."
The new law also comes as Russian politicians put forth increasingly xenophobic proposals targeting Central Asian migrants.
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, as part of an effort to counter an alleged migrant crime wave.
Vadim Kozhenov, director of the Federation of Migrants of Russia, a lobby group that works closely with the Russian government, also told the newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets in November that toughened migration measures are to be implemented by 2024.
The measures would include a mandatory mobile app that would constantly track a person's location. The geolocation feature on that app cannot be turned off.
When asked about privacy issues and the potential for a "digital concentration camp", Kozhenov said that he "does not see this as a problem".
Migrant workers in Russia already face daily challenges ranging from bureaucratic barriers put up by migration agencies to illegal and groundless arrests.
"Although Russia has introduced many restrictive laws against us, we are unable to defend our even simple human rights, and local human rights organisations ignore our problems," says Yusupov.
"Dealing with such pressure every day is psychologically difficult," he added.
Russia's increasing restrictions on foreigners seem to be contributing to an outflow of migrants.
After returning to Tashkent from Novosibirsk two years ago, Norbek Akhmedov, who works at a local porcelain factory, noted that Uzbekistan's economy has improved recently.
"This year, many jobs have appeared in our country, including at construction sites," Akhmedov told Caravanserai.
"This is a good trend for thousands of Uzbeks who dream of leaving Russia and returning home."
Aziza Abdrasulova, director of the human rights NGO Kylym Shamy (Eternal Candle) in Bishkek, is convinced that the systematic violation of migrant workers' rights in Russia will intensify in the near future.
"Russia's economy has an acute need for migrant workers, but Russian policy is forcing them to leave the country," Abdrasulova said.