Judith Ingram, AP, Nov. 16, 2006
Russia should not permit the growth of ethnic neighborhoods or enclaves where foreigners outnumber native Russian citizens, the nation’s top migration official said Thursday.
The comments by Konstantin Romodanovsky, director of the Federal Migration Service, came a day after the announcement of a new government policy that bars immigrants from trading at street stalls and markets.
President Vladimir Putin ordered his Cabinet last month to take steps to decrease the employment of foreign workers at Russian markets, alleging they were crowding out native producers and retailers. Indoor and outdoor markets are staffed heavily by migrants from former Soviet republics, many of them working without official permission to reside or work in Russia — and working long hours for pitifully low salaries.
According to a new Cabinet order regulating labor migration for the next year issued Wednesday, migrants will be prohibited from selling alcohol or pharmaceuticals as of Jan. 1. Foreigners should comprise no more than 40 percent of retail personnel employed outside stores during the period ending April 1. After that, they will be barred from taking these jobs.
Romodanovsky reiterated the position voiced in a newspaper interview published Thursday with his deputy, Vyacheslav Postavnin, who said the concentration of foreigners in any district or region should not surpass “17 to 20 percent” of the native population, particularly if they have a different national culture and religious faith.
“I consider that settlements of the ‘Chinatown’ type would be unacceptable for Russia, and I can assure you that there will be no such settlements,” Romodanovsky said in an interview with the NTV television network. “Migration is a very complicated matter, a universal problem that is a sensitive issue, and one must be very careful.”
“Exceeding this norm creates discomfort for the indigenous population,” Postavnin was quoted as saying by the newspaper Vremya Novostei.
During a meeting Wednesday with Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov, Putin instructed him to extend that ban. “I see no reason why we should change that after 2007. This isn’t a sector of the economy where we have a labor deficit, we have enough labor force of our own there,” he said.
Russia’s population is dropping by about 700,000 a year and has fallen below 143 million, in a demographic crisis blamed on the economic turmoil that followed the Soviet collapse. The population decline would be even steeper were it not for immigration.
Postavnin told Vremya Novostei that some 10 million to 12 million foreigners work in Russia, including about 7 million who are working illegally. Each of Russia’s 88 regions will be able to set quotas for the amount of foreign labor needed, he was quoted as saying.
The campaign against illegal migration has drawn criticism from rights activists. Some say that Putin has chosen to play the populist card to consolidate the Kremlin’s already strong control over society, and they contend that the campaign is only fueling the already virulent racism in Russia.
The new measures to restrict foreign labor “will lead only to increasing corruption since the very same foreigners will be engaging in trade, only illegally,” the Gazeta.ru online newspaper quoted refugee rights activist Svetlana Gannushkina as saying.
Police and other government officials regularly roam markets, checking workers’ registration papers and extracting bribes to allow unregistered workers to remain.
Gannushkina also argued that the ban on trade jobs violated a constitutional provision guaranteeing equal rights for migrants.