14 January 2009

The Fire This Time: Migrant Workers in Russia and the Quotidian Violence of Poverty

Trapped in a basement garage, seven men burned to death in Moscow. Several more were injured. All were migrant workers from Tajikistan, an underdeveloped nation heavily dependent on remittances, which comprise over 40% of the country’s GDP, according to the World Bank.

These men traveled to Russia to support themselves, their families and their communities, despite knowledge of the hardships and violence they would likely face. Paid substandard wages for construction work, they built makeshift homes out of plywood and foam in the building they worked on during the day, a common violation tacitly encouraged by contractors looking to cut costs. As nighttime temperatures dropped well below freezing, these workers warmed themselves around electric heaters. In retrospect, the resultant catastrophe seems inevitable.

While the gruesome spectacle of racist attacks garners more media attention, the slow grinding violence of poverty and deplorable working conditions quietly takes its toll on migrant workers in Moscow.