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Central Asia: Labor Migrants Caught in Russian Politicians’ Crosshairs

Russian police force-march labor migrants, mostly from post-Soviet Central Asian republics, along Moscow city streets, seen in a still shot taken from a video shot in late May 2013. Estimates put Central Asians at roughly 10 percent of Moscow’s population of 12 to 17 million.

Scores of men on a forced march under police guard: they are not POWs en route to a labor camp; they are labor migrants in a Moscow suburb – most of them from post-Soviet Central Asian republics.

The video footage taken last month should not come as a shock. Anti-immigrant rhetoric in Russia is rising – stoked, in part, by the mayoral campaign underway in Moscow. Candidates seem eager to blame problems on outsiders, especially Central Asian migrants. One candidate has even promised to rid the city of migrants – legal and illegal – within three years. Many discuss the need for new visa requirements.

"Moscow is a Russian city and it should remain that way. It is not Chinese, Tajik or Uzbek," Mayor Sergei Sobyanin told the Moskovskiye Novosti newspaper in May. “People who speak Russian badly and who have a different culture are better off living in their own country.”

Sobyanin, who is running for reelection, has also broadly blamed migrants for crime. Yet Interior Ministry figures show that foreigners committed no more than 2 percent of crimes in 2012.

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Murat Sadykov is the pseudonym for a journalist specializing in Central Asian affairs. David Trilling contributed reporting.

Central Asia: Labor Migrants Caught in Russian Politicians’ Crosshairs

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