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RUSSIA: Needs More Migrants, But Will Not Have Them

Kester Kenn Klomegah

MOSCOW, Oct 27 2006 (IPS) - Quite abruptly, potential migrants have been told they may not be as welcome in Russia as they had come to expect.

In his state-of-nation address in May this year, President Vladimir Putin said it was necessary to reverse the declining population by encouraging skilled Russian-speaking foreigners from ex-Soviet republics to seek employment in Russia.

“Our policy remains to attract our compatriots from abroad,” he said. “We need to encourage skilled migration to our country, encourage educated and law-abiding people to come.”

But barely five months after that official policy statement, Putin has asked the government to control the flow of migrants into the country and to defend the interests of Russian workers.

The country must attract capital and qualified workers that are needed, “but we must regulate the flow of immigrants, and Russians should not feel infringed upon in the labour market and other areas.”

Putin asked his cabinet ministers this week to implement the Kremlin’s call for stricter control which “must conform to basic international standards” and act firmly against what the government sees as excessive immigration.

One factor behind the flow of illegal immigrants into Russia is that it has no formal borders with Belarus; anyone who comes to Belarus may then freely move to Russia without showing any documents. The booming construction projects, the retail market trade and the service sector continue to attract foreign workers.

A source at the Interior Ministry told IPS there are about 12 million immigrants in Russia, of which only 705,000 are legally registered.

The Federal Migration Service (FMS) says it will now restore Soviet-era quotas on foreigners seeking employment, and provide guidelines for a new migration policy to be enforced by the end of this month.

“We are considering a series of drastic measures, and drafting amendments to the legislative acts that will help reduce the rapid influx of people without legal status to the barest minimum. The adjustments will make the use of labour more effective than before in the economy,” Federal Migration Service spokesman Konstantin Romodanovsky told IPS.

“It is our task, on the one hand, to seek to prevent illegal migration so that Russia does not become a sedimentation tank and, on the other hand, to create an attractive environment for able-bodied and active citizens from the former Soviet republics,” he said.

Romodansky said the FMS was currently compiling a database of aliens and stateless persons, and that “a single information network will cover all regions of the country before the end of the year.”

Romodansky rejected assertions that ethnic reprisals are common in Russia. But critics say large numbers of ethnic Russians from central Asian regions, especially Georgians, are now being targeted. Since disputes with Georgia broke out, the Moscow city court has issued expulsion orders for more than 600 Georgian nationals accused of breaking immigration laws. Many more face deportation.

Foreign workers from Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan say employment in Moscow has sustained their families back home, but they now fear the harsh consequences of deportation.

“Recent political developments have made it tougher to meet our responsibilities and financial commitments to our families. The crackdown on illegal immigrants is fraught with significant side effects,” Ruslan Khadzhev, an ethnic Uzbek who works at the newly renovated Ritz hotel told IPS.

“We are feeling the tension, we know that we will face repatriation when arrested without proper documents. They have already come for some of our colleagues and they keep coming because we are their targets to get rid off, sometimes just on the basis of ethnic hatred.”

Legislators have recognised the growing problem and its security threats for the country.

“It’s inappropriate to carry out mass deportation of the huge majority of ex-Soviet citizens who are living and working without proper documentation,” Ahmed Gadzhiyevich Bilalov, first deputy chairman of the State Duma’s Committee on Relations with CIS Affairs told IPS.

“Under the circumstances, I think we will achieve some results when the employers are also held responsible for breaking the law. The guarantee of granting equal rights for these people must be regulated first by their employers.”

The State Duma (parliament) is planning to amend a number of laws to prevent unlicensed employment of nationals from the Commonwealth of Independent States (ex-Soviet countries), said Parliament Speaker Boris Gryzlov.

The amendments will be made to ensure a law that “protects Russia’s national security” so that “the President has the power to impose certain restrictions on countries and territories posing a threat to Russia’s national security,” Gryzlov said.

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