Does Moscow Want to Focus Russian Attention on Illegal Immigration Again?

August 8, 2014
Aftermath of disturbances in Moscow's Biryulevo district in October 2013. Photo: RIA Novosti/Anton Denisov

Staunton, August 7 – Prior to Vladimir Putin’s Anschluss of Crimea and his interventionist actions in Ukraine, Russians were far more concerned about illegal immigration and ethnic crime than they were about the mistreatment of ethnic Russians in Ukraine, about which so much was said in the media over the last six months.

Now, there is some indication that Moscow may be preparing to try to redirect Russian public opinion again toward the problems of immigration, something that could presage a change in the Kremlin’s policy towards Ukraine or alternatively could be the basis for an even more forward leaning policy against the former Soviet republics from which most migrants come.

The Nezavisimaya Gazeta reports that Procurator General Yuri Chaika is supporting Federal Migration Service [FMS] head Konstantin Romodanovsky’s suggestion that his agency has the power to investigate crime by immigrants and that the Institute of National Strategy [INS] has issued a report on that issue.

The numbers Chaika provides are certainly intended to shock: more than 17 million foreigners are coming in to Russia each year. Their numbers reportedly growing by 10 percent a year, while there are 6-7 percent less people leaving Russia than there are coming in. Some five million immigrants are working illegally or in the shadow economy and they are often involved with the criminal world.

Further, the FMS says, more than three million foreigners are overstaying their visa periods. Some 62,500 foreigners were expelled in the first half of the year for violations of immigration law, and “more than 900,000” have been told they cannot return. Prosecutors are doing everything they can, Chaika says. Obviously, the FMS can help.

Some observers think that giving the FMS authority in this area will only lead to an increase in corruption. Others believe that the situation could improve, if FMS is given adequate resources to do so – but these sources suggest that the money isn’t available for that just now given the economic crisis.

In addition to the statements of Chaika and Romodanovsky, the Moscow daily reported that the Moscow Institute for National Strategy has prepared a report on crime among immigrants and on the anger many Russians feel about this. Ever more Russians want the imposition of visa restrictions on immigrant workers and support expelling some of them.

According to a poll cited by the institute, 81 percent of Muscovites support the demands of the Biryulevo [Biryulevo Vostochnoye District, a neighborhood in the southeast of Moscow where multiple violent ethnic conflicts have taken place that were directed at immigrant minority groups. The Interpreter] to expel immigrants, 41 percent approve the protests the Biryulevo residents staged to expel them and “only three percent of the Muscovites condemned the Biryulevo pogroms.”

The INS study, Nezavisimaya Gazeta continues, concludes that “the organization of illegal migration has the character of a well organized criminal business in which both criminal groups and officials of government organizations are affiliated.” The newspaper says that this situation can be corrected only “by the introduction of a visa regime with the countries of the former Union.”