A city in the far east of Russia has seen a surge of anti-migrant sentiment following the arrest of a man from Kyrgyzstan on suspicion of raping a local resident.
Sakha News, an outlet based in the remote northern city of Yakutsk, on March 17 cited investigators as saying that the man dragged a woman from a children’s playground into a waiting car and drove her to an unknown location. Three suspects were detained after the woman filed a report.
By that same evening, the word got around for residents of Yakutsk to gather for a collective show of anger over this alleged crime. A few dozen assembled, but the rally that took place the following day, on March 18, was something unusual for Yakutsk.
The meeting, which reportedly drew up to 7,000 people, was also attended by the governor of the Sakha Republic, Aisen Nikolayev, Yakutsk mayor Sardan Avksentyev and other senior officials.
Nikolayev assured the crowd that the suspect would be punished with the full force of the law and he promised that there would be an intensification of checks on migrants in the coming months, to ensure everybody had their proper papers. He also urged people to refrain from vigilantism. Nikolayev elaborated on his argument in a post on Instagram.
“If it is necessary, we will adopt new limitations and prohibitions against labor migrants,” he wrote, while also calling on the public to refrain from whipping up inter-ethnic tensions.
Moscow-based Ferghana news website cited local Sakha media as saying that there have already been isolated reprisals against the migrant community, however.
In one case, the driver of a minibus was attacked by a gang of seven people. Also, a video was posted online of a man threateningly warning a Kyrgyz shopkeeper to close his store to avoid it being “pulled down.”
The Sakha Republic covers an area in the far east of Russia about twice the size of Alaska and has a population of under 1 million. Around half of those inhabitants are ethnic Yakuts, or Sakha, a Turkic-speaking Siberian people who migrated to the region some time in the 6th century.
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