A growing number of migrants from Central Asia are coming to Russia to earn money. Their situation became more difficult because of growing anti-immigrant sentiments, but they don’t see a way out yet.
Aziz has left his home country to work in Russia in 2009 and he still lives there. He is very well educated, speaks English, Farsi and Russian fluently. More than 15 years ago his family moved from Tajikistan to Uzbekistan, where he worked in various organizations. Later, he decided to move to Moscow because of the high salary prospects.
Aziz was mainly engaged in unskilled jobs. "I was doing everything. The most important thing for me is not to be engaged in anything illegal and respect the culture of the country," he said.
"Now I go home to Uzbekistan as a visitor. There I can stay at most for a couple of months. And then I feel like I want to return to Moscow. So now even back home I’m called a migrant."
Labor migrants in Russia are called gastarbeiter. This term, meaning guest worker in German, is widely used in Russia and the former Soviet Union countries. The term gastarbeiter refers to employees who come to work on a voluntary basis at the invitation of the German government. In 1961, Germany and Turkey signed an agreement on migrant workers, which facilitated the temporary employment of Turkish citizens in Germany. The Turks came to Germany as gastarbeiter, but many of them stayed their whole life.
When Aziz is called gastarbeiter, he is offended. Despite its positive meaning of being a “guest worker”, the word is usually employed in a negative context. According to Aziz, in Russia people use it for “subordinates”. Because in general migrant workers are employed in low paid jobs: porters, maintenance workers and cleaners. And their number is growing up quickly. According to the Federal Migration Service of Russia, only in the first half of the year ten million workers have come to Russia.
They often are the only breadwinners of their families which they left back home where the average salary is several times lower than in Russia.
Even if they earn money to support their families at home, life of migrants in Russia becomes more and more difficult. A case of murder in Biryulyovo, an area near Moscow, three weeks ago provoked what local media called a "Russian revolt against migrants". A native of Azerbaijan killed a Russian young man. This incident outraged Moscow population and provoked a riot. Groups of nationalists together with the common people destroyed shopping center and vegetable base that were considered a "nest " of immigrants. The participants demanded to ensure the safety of the population and to tighten immigration laws.
Moscow police conducted mass arrests of migrants. Only in Biryulyovo, more than a thousand migrants - men and women – were captured. In an article of the Russian magazine SNOB, journalist Valery Morozov criticized the authorities "not to capture the murderer and in order to calm the population, demonstrating intense activity." Russian journalist Valery Morozov said in his article in the Snob magazine said the Moscow authorities demonstrated vigorous actions to pacify population, rather than to catch a murderer. Two days after the riots in Biryulyovo the body of a 51 year old man from Uzbekistan was found. He died from multiple stab wounds. Russian bloggers claimed that the incident could be a provocative revenge for the Russian victim of murder.
The leader of the Union of the Youth of Tajikistan in Russia, Izzat Aman, said that after the events in Biryulyovo he doesn’t see the future of migrants in this country anymore. "I didn’t even see my future. Although I 'm Muscovite and Russian citizen,” said Izzat. “Every night crowds of young people are walking under my window and shouting nationalist slogans. Young boys aged from 15 to 20 years. If you get into their hands, there is no way to get out alive from the crowd.” Izzat is not alone with his fears: "All those who are like me, with black hair and dark skin, are scared. Even those who were born and grew up in Russia, they are scared too."
According to Tajikistan's Youth leader in Russia after Biryulyovo everything changed dramatically: “Migrants didn’t have any rights before. But now they suffer not only from the hands of nationalists, but also from the law enforcement agencies.”
Representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Germany expressed concern about the unrest in Moscow with the manifestation of violence against migrants from the Caucasus and Central Asia. The Russian Foreign Ministry in response recommended German colleagues pay attention to the observance of human rights in Germany, noting that "extreme right-wing , neo-Nazi and xenophobic sentiments continue to grow and strengthen."
According to the spokeswoman of the Berlin Senate Department for Labour, Integration and Women’s Issues, Elke Pohl, "there is some discrimination too. For example, when young Turkish people come to the night club, they aren’t allowed in and told the place is overcrowded." If Turkish and German candidates apply for the same job and have the same qualifications, the German one would have the upper hand, she says.
Talking about discrimination, Aziz from Uzbekistan said that he "tried many times to get a good job but they all require a Slavic appearance. I have a degree in production automation, work experience in managerial positions, I know English and Persian. And they are asking for looks, you know?" he complains.
The representative of the Turkish Association of Berlin-Brandenburg, Ayşe Demir, notes that in Germany the employer is subject to legal penalties for discrimination if he has such a requirement.
Although in the German community there is still discrimination against Turkish workers.
Izzat Aman believes that Russian immigration law is good but it didn’t work because of the high level of corruption. According to him, it's impossible to regulate the migration in Russia, because "it is beneficial to certain circles that receive billions of dollars in income from migrants."
An ethnologist of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Sergei Abashin, believes that the situation with the migration policy in Russia "will get worse." "This is due to the deterioration of the general situation in Russia, the economic crisis and the intensification of the political struggle that we have seen recently (... ) at the same time, this government is allowing migrants to enter the country, says Abashin. On the other hand, while preparing for the Olympic Games in Sochi and the football championship, the Russian government enacts legislation to toughen penalties for immigrants for minor violations.
According to Sergei Abashin, the main task of Russia should be to provide the migrants with the opportunity to live and work legally. "Of course, some of the migrants remain in Russia and, possibly, the process will continue to grow. So, Russia has to think in advance on the integration mechanisms and to look closely to the experience of other countries,” said the expert.
Although some Russian experts think that German experience in migration is positive, Ayşe Demir says that she lives in Berlin only temporarily. She's waiting for her son to grow up so they can emigrate. Ayşe doesn’t exclude the possibility that Turkey could become the country of her stay. Izzat Aman also thinks he will not live in Russia for all his life and some day he hopes to the home country.