MOSCOW, Russia – Russian police in Moscow arrested 1,200 migrant workers on Monday in response to nationalists’ riots over the killing of ethnic Russian, Egor Shcherbakov. All of those arrested in the preemptive raid worked at a warehouse where police believe the killer may have worked. On Sunday, police arrested hundreds of nationalist rioters who overturned cars and stormed warehouses in search of Shcherbakov’s killer. According to the Guardian, these riots mark the most violent unrest in Moscow in 3 years.
Shcherbakov was murdered in the Biryulyovo district of Moscow on October 10th. Police subsequently released a security camera photo of the suspect, a man the media described as being of “non-Slavic appearance.” Based on the media’s reports and the police photo, many nationalists concluded that the killer must be a Muslim migrant from the North Caucasus region. In response, the nationalists staged riots whereby they destroyed cars and shop windows before raiding the warehouse in search of the suspect. Many of the rioters were chanting, “Russia for Russians.”
Some officials have suggested that the arrests of the migrant workers were not in response to wrongdoing but more for their protection from the nationalists. However, some police were quoted as saying they were investigating the migrants for possible involvement in criminal activity. Many in the migrant community are fearful that police will begin a city-wide crackdown on illegal migrants to appease the nationalists. But the police are not the migrants’ greatest concern—the head of the Federation for Migrants has warned those living in Moscow that random attacks by nationalists are possible.
Steve Rosenburg, a BBC correspondent in Moscow, says that the riots reflect the violent sentiment of Russian nationalists and increasing hostility between ethnic Russians and illegal migrants from the Caucasus regions. Official statistics estimate that there are more than 2 million illegal migrants living in Russia, but many believe that the number is much higher.
Citizens of the former Soviet Union do not require a visa to work in Russia and many migrants travel there to escape the more difficult economic conditions in Central Asia. Speaking about the difficult conditions in Uzbekistan, one taxi driver said, “They don’t understand that when they catch someone and deport them, they’re deciding his fate. He can’t return here for five years and there is no work over there.”
The growing anti-migrant sentiment of nationalists is sure to pressure politicians and authorities to crack down on illegal migrants. One opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, is suggesting a visa regime for migrants from Central Asia and the Caucasus regions. With high unemployment and dire economic conditions in the former Soviet Union, migrants face an increasingly difficult choice: remain in hostile Russia or return home to a land of little opportunity.
– Daniel Bonasso