“Why are you silent?”

Published: 27 August 2013

Country: Russia

russia migrantsLeading human rights activists in Russia have warned of rising xenophobia ahead of the elections for the Mayor of Moscow in September.

In the open letter published in Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, human rights activists said politicians have made the situation worse stirring up anti-immigrant sentiments amongst the people.The candidates for the position of the Moscow’s Mayor have made toughening immigration policies a key plank of their campaigns.

Our society is being drawn into such depths of visceral hatred that the only way out of it is a civil war. The situation in Russia is so explosive that it is like a match which is going to set up the fire. The inter-ethnic relations are the most important issues at the moment. Authorities as usual use the xenophobia which is the part of their propaganda to citizens. Officials pass the protest mood of ethnic Russians and native citizens from the governmental bodies to the migrants who are the enemy number one by their opinion. A cynical manipulation of public opinion takes place in Russia at the moment and it is extremely important today to hear the voices of common and respected people who are not involved in political games. But such voices are, unfortunately, almost inaudible”, wrote the leaders of five of Russia’s top human rights groups.

The signatories of an open letter titled “Why are you silent” are Lyudmila Alekseev, head of the Moscow Helsinki Group, Arseny Roginsky, chair of Memorial, Svetlana Gannushkina, “Civic Assistance Committee “, Lydia Grafova, ” Forum of Migrants’ Organizations”,  Sergei Kovalev, Sakharov Center.

They expressed their concern describing that “the current flare-up in the ‘fight’ against illegal immigration is simply a PR campaign ahead of upcoming elections”.

Ahead of mayoral polls in September, Moscow police have increased their raids of underground operations, where migrants from southeast or central Asia have been exploited by employers. As some media reported, last month Russian police arrested 1,500 foreigners, most of them Vietnamese, working and living under unsanitary conditions in a sweatshop.

Those being held include people from former Soviet republics with close ties to Russia, like Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, as well as Syria, Afghanistan and Egypt.

“The campaign — cheered, for the most part, by the news media and the public here — has exposed the complexity and corruption of Russia’s labor market and tapped into the country’s ever-simmering ethnic animosity. And that has raised concerns among foreign embassies and provoked outrage from national and international human rights groups”, reported the New York Times.

In recent years, hundreds of thousands of migrants have come to Russia from impoverished, Muslim-majority states of the former Soviet Union. They often work as street cleaners or on construction sites.

They frequently endure poor labour and living conditions and are increasingly regarded with disdain by many citizens of Moscow.