Blog by Olga Gulina

Immigrant Lockdown Camps: Another Symbol of Today's Russia?


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Reality is likely to teach immigrants coming to Russia a hard lesson. The state's migration policy is veiled in seemingly liberal slogans although its application is explicitly illiberal. A fact of reality is that anti-immigrant policies are in demand by the Russian electoral market. For example, according to Levada Center polling:

•71% of Russians are convinced that immigrants are mostly criminals and support their deportation.

•73% support strong and tough measures by the authorities against immigrants.

•53.3% view them as ignoring Russian language and culture, and having difficulties in communication.

•42.3% characterize them as low skilled and poorly educated persons.

•35% are irritated by the “untidy and repulsive appearances” of newcomers.

•18.7% disapprove of their bad manners and indelicacy.

•55% of Muscovites are displeased with having immigrants living in Moscow.


Nobody knows the exact number of migrants illegally living and working in Russia. The Federal Migration Service says there may be up to 4 million individuals while independent experts elevate these figures to 8-10 million.


Meanwhile, most immigrants enter Russia via visa-free regimes, mostly from Central Asia. Upon their arrival at airports or railway stations, many of them meet agents offering unauthorized jobs. Some of them already have close relatives working illegally who secure jobs for them through informal contacts. Either way, they are usually content to take on tough jobs.


The fight against illegal immigration is a hard and new task for the Russian government, which on April 8, 2013, adopted a decree introducing requirements for immigrant detention centers. According to this act, pre-deportation centers must include reception zones, sanitary inspections, a disinfection zone, medical sections, infectious insulators, administrative offices, storerooms, detention places, food areas, and gym facilities (if possible). There are 21 detention centers in Russia today. Most of them are low on space and do not meet the required standards. In the coming years, 83 centers are planned to be built in 81 Russian regions.


Yet, a tent camp in Golianovo near Moscow, which was built within one week this past July, shows how twisted the policy is. Much of the haste can be explained by the forthcoming mayoral election in Moscow on September 8, 2013. The camp seems to have been built not to cater to immigrant needs but to meet voters' expectations. Sanitary, food, and medical facilities for the 600 detainees (quite a few are pregnant women) seem to be viewed as excessive luxuries. According to available information, the police have banned lawyers, interpreters, and human rights activists from entering the camp. The Golianovo detention camp made clear that for the majority of society, violations of human rights is of little interest.


On August 20, 2013, Novaya Gazeta published a letter signed by a group of leading human rights activists who dubbed the recent anti-immigration moves as a “populist campaign before elections,” and one that harms those who actually create 7% of Russia's GDP.


For many years, the migration services have been stagnating and corrupt, and society has been content to see migrants as aliens. I expect neither supportive reaction to Novaya Gazeta’s appeal, nor changes in the attitudes toward immigrants within Russian society, at least in the near term. The lop-sided anti-immigration measures we see remind us, again, of the agonies taking place within an incapacitated administrative machine.


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