Russian police conduct raid to search for those who violate migration rules at a street market in Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, August 7, 2013. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)
On Saturday July 27, a group of plainclothes police arrived at the Matveev market in Moscow to arrest Magomed Magomedov, a Dagestani, for the statutory rape of a 15-year-old girl. As the police detained Magomedov, a crowd gathered to protest. Fisticuffs ensued as one of Magomedov’s relatives attacked an officer, Anton Kudriashov. When the dust settled, Kudriashov’s attacker, Magomed Rasulov, had fled, allegedly after bribing another cop. Kurdiashov lay dazed with a cracked skull. Responding to the incident, an incensed President Putin captured Russians’ anger. “[Citizens tell] us it is impossible to continue tolerating this level of lawlessness… Policemen were standing there and watching as their colleague got beaten up. Why? Are they such cowards? Perhaps, but it’s unlikely. Most likely, their inaction is earning them money from those merchants. This is obvious and well-known to everyone.” Putin’s right to single out corruption. It’s not only at the center of the Matveev market incident but at the heart of the migration issue. The sweeps of illegal migrants are populist measures meant to divert the attention, and especially that of the Moscow electorate that will vote for mayor on September 8, from the real scourge of Russian society: corruption.
After the United States, Russia is the largest recipient of immigrants in the world. According to statistics from the Federal Migration Service (Russia’s version to the INS), there are over 10 million legal and an estimated 3 million illegal immigrants in Russia. The majority of immigrants hail from the former Soviet states of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Ukraine and Moldova to serve as cheap labor for construction and the service industry. Immigrants are one of the most exploited segments of Russian society. Wages are incredibly low. According to 2010 estimates, about two-thirds of immigrants earn between $300 and $600 a month to survive in Moscow, one of the world’s most expensive cities. Some live as slaves. Most migrant wages flow out of Russia as remittances. In 2010, $18.2 billion left Russia, mostly to Central Asia, where remittances make up half and a third of the GDPs of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan respectively. Getting legal status as a guest worker in Russia is a snaillike, expensive and corrupt process often infeasible for most labor migrants.
But immigration is only one side of the issue. Russia also has an internal migration problem, and particularly with migrants from Dagestan, Ingushetia and Chechnya. The paradox of the Matveev market incident, and others like it, is that North Caucasians are citizens of the Russian Federation. What makes them “illegal” in their own country is they live in cities in which they aren’t registered. Though Russian Constitutional Court has ruled Russia’s internal passport system, or propiska, unconstitutional five times, it still regulates citizens’ movement. Historically, the internal passport system was a way to control certain groups’ migration into cities. Citizens without registration can be denied employment, healthcare, education, the ability to open a bank account and even a drivers’ license. It is difficult for people from the North Caucasus to get registration in European Russia. The registration system gives local officials the power to deny anyone residency.