Immigration is a hot topic in Russia’s election campaign. Driven by poverty, desperate migrants from former Soviet republics and Central Asia have descended on Russia in their millions in search of work. They are employed in low-skilled, badly-paid jobs, where exploitation occurs on a daily basis.
Migrant worker group supervisor Bakht Izdachev said: “Over five months, the average salary earned is around 30 thousand roubles (700 euros) or 40 thousand roubles (900 euros). That is all they have to support their family.”
The Federal Migration Service estimates that about 1.7 million foreigners entered Russia legally in 2011. There are at least another 4 to 12 million, according to the World Bank, who are working illegally.
And it is these who are living in squalor under the constant threat of expulsion. Illegal migrants are being abused by unscrupulous employers and victimised by neo-Nazi gangs.
Ethnic tensions and nationalism are escalating in Russia. Human rights activists say officials have turned a blind eye to nationalism and xenophobia. Analysts maintain that the increasing number of migrants, especially from Asia, is fuelling neo-Nazi ideology and racism among young Russians, who fear unemployment. Others disagree.
Nikolai Petrov, an analyst at Moscow’s Carnegie Center, said: “The issue isn’t that they, the migrants, are taking the jobs of native Russians. I is businesses which are seeking out this silent and submissive workforce from abroad, who prove a lot more cost-effective.”
The influx of migrants is an economic necessity. Their contribution to Russia’s GDP is at least 37 billion euros per year. Migrants already represent about 3-5% of the country’s workforce. In the future, they will be even more in demand. The country’s population, currently around 143 million, is expected to shrink by as much as 40 million by 2050.