10 February 2009

HRW Releases Report on Migrant Construction Workers in Russia [UPDATED]

Some OMON* come regularly to this area at about 4 or 5 a.m. They break into the house and force everyone to pay something. One day I thought, I’m going to sleep in the car, and maybe they won’t notice me. They saw me and I tried not to get out of the car, but they said, “Get out or we’ll set the car on fire.” [I got out] and they beat me. I wanted to complain. First I went to the prosecutor’s office on Babushkinskaia street, and they sent me to the [prosecutor’s office] at the Yaroslav train station. … But there they just refused to accept my complaint. I want to file the complaint [somewhere]. I want to go through with this.

Amangeldy A., Migrant Worker in Moscow Oblast'
Human Rights Watch has just released a 115-page report (pdf available in English or Russian) on the status of migrant construction workers in the Russian Federation.

While the basic issues and recommendations will likely surprise nobody, I was impressed by the details included in the report, based on over 140 in-depth interviews with migrant workers throughout the country, including excerpts like the one above. What spins out of these snippets is a narrative that begins with recruitment in home countries and is followed by a migration story. After this trek comes a negotiation of the complex registration system in Russia and settling into some temporary abode, likely without any basic utilities. The story ends with exploitation by intermediary agents and local employers, as well as harassment by indifferent or antagonistic government officials.

Details of the violence along the way are particularly harrowing:
In the middle of March 2008, we were asleep, and the OMON came. When we heard them, we ran. There were six of them in black uniforms… As I ran, they struck me in the back with a pole that was like the handle of a shovel, and I fell down. They hit me hard. When I fell, two started to beat me with the poles and their fists. They beat me in the legs and head but didn’t touch my face. … And then they threw me into some water, and I was in up to my chest.
Another migrant reports:
I worked in Russia for four months in 2006. The police came to our work every day. They would detain me sometimes and hold me overnight in the police station. They forced me to unload metal barrels into the garbage truck. If I refused to do it, they would beat me. Sometimes they would detain us, take us to a village, and force us to work [doing construction on houses] belonging to their friends. Ten times or more they forced us to work in the village.
While the report is written in the pathos-laden language of human rights organizations, one might also read these stories and wonder, "What would it look like if these workers united? What else do they have to lose?"


* OMON are the cops, in case you couldn't get that from context.

Update: The NYT carries an article today on a shantytown in the Moscow suburb of Chelobityevo inhabited by migrant workers. I quite liked this photograph by Mikhail Galustov that accompanied the piece:


Anonymous said...

And on that labour background, housing prices beat most of the U.S. and Europe...


Anonymous said...

By the way, I can unveil a little secret to you, Buster.

Do you know which words you had to say if you wanted to touch Russian patriots?

Something like that: "If Russia considers one of its goals re-integration processes at the post-Soviet space, the government must take special care for adequate treatment of citizens of post-Soviet states inside Russia. The Government should also use migrant workers to re-introduce the myth of internationalistic goals of Russia, what can be done by the way of enforcing adequate treatment of this group of people."