Behind Russia’s Migrant Raids, a Vast Network of Bribes and Opportunism

In hopes of drumming up support among nationalist-minded citizens in advance of regional elections, police are conducting abusive crackdowns on immigrants.


Shadows of people suspected of violating immigration rules in Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2013 (Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP)

If the past week is any indication, the plight of Russia’s illegal migrants may be about to go from unenviable to impossible.

Police in Moscow in the past week arrested 1,400 immigrants from Vietnam, Azerbaijan, Syria, Morocco, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Egypt. More than 600 have been forced into a sweltering tent camp to await deportation.

Meanwhile, Russian migration authorities have called for more than 80 detention centers to be built nationwide, signaling that the battle against illegal workers is gathering steam.

Observers say the sweep is aimed at currying favor with nationalist-minded Russians ahead of regional elections next month.

But critics like Mohammad Majumder, the president of the Russian Federation of Migrants, say the move overlooks the real problem with migration — the rampant cycle of corruption and bribes that it perpetuates among police, bureaucrats, and middlemen charging exorbitant fees in exchange for legal documents.

“CIS citizens should pay just 2,000 rubles ($60) in custom duties for a work permit. Instead, they’re really paying 20,000 to 25,000 rubles ($600-$750). It’s a matter of expenses,” Majumder says. “Our officials are creating thousands of these intermediary firms. It’s an illegal business built on migrants.”

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