Tag Archives: Central Asia

Why Did a Danish NGO Finance a Manual Depicting Migrant Workers in Russia as Tools?

As first reported on social networks yesterday and then later picked up by local online media outlets Fontanka.ru and The Village, Petersburg city hall has recently been involved in the publication and distribution of a “Manual for Migrant Workers” in which the migrant workers, presumably from the former Central Asian Soviet republics, are depicted as a paint roller, a whisk, a spatula and a paint brush.

The manual is available in four languages—Russian, Tajik, Uzbek and Kyrgyz—and can be downloaded as a .pdf file from the web site of Petersburg city hall’s “Tolerance” program, where it was apparently posted on August 30 of this year.

An accompanying text explains that the brochure was published by the “regional public organization Future Outlook” with support from the Petersburg and Leningrad Regional office of the Federal Migration Service and the [Petersburg] Municipal Center for the Prevention and Monitoring of HIV/AIDS and Infectious Diseases. Its stated aim is to promote “social adaptation and HIV/AIDS prevention among migrant workers from Central Asia.” To this end, the brochure has, allegedly, been made available at several locations around Petersburg and distributed at “training sessions” for migrants, also conducted by by Future Outlook.

While the Central Asian migrant workers are depicted throughout the manual as tools typically used in building renovation and maintenance, fields in which such workers are employed in large numbers in Russia’s major cities, the Russian law enforcement, immigration and health officials “welcoming” them to Russia, along with ordinary Russians encountered by the migrant workers during their stay, are depicted as human beings.

“Arrival in Russia”


“Crossing the Border”

“HIV Prevention: ‘Remember, You’re Expected to Arrive Home Healthy!'”

The Central Asian anthropomorphic “tools” are also given “useful advice” and “simple rules” for “feeling comfortable” in “Russia’s cultural capital.” Among other things, they are advised not to “wear ethnic clothing at all times and everywhere,” because it attracts “unwanted attention”; not to “wear sweatsuits constantly,  especially with classic dress shoes”; not to “go outside in a housecoat”; not to “squat on [their] haunches in public”; and not to “spit and litter.”

“Don’t Litter!”

Despite the fact that Central Asian migrant workers (along with other foreigners and members of Russia’s numerous ethnic minorities) have been frequent targets of neo-Nazi violence in recent years (the Moscow-based Sova Center has recorded 490 such assaults and murders in Petersburg during the period from 2004 to late September 2012) and are routinely exploited, conned and abused by Russian employers and government officials, the manual’s authors discourage them from “judging the city as a whole by one or even several unpleasant incidents that have happened to [them] or to people [they] know.”

And indeed, the manual’s final cartoon shows the Russian officials and a stereotypical Russian babuskha giving the Central Asian tools a warm farewell at the airport. The babushka comments, “What a good job you did with the renovations.”

According to an article published earlier today on news web site Newsru.com, spokespeople for Petersburg city hall have denied that it has anything to do with the brochure—even though it remains posted on the web site for the city’s “Tolerance” program as of this writing. In the same article, Gleb Panfilov, identified as the “head” of Future Outlook, the brochure’s publisher, is quoted as claiming that the illustrations provoked no “questions” or “negative emotions” among the migrant workers his organization had worked with, including a “focus group.”

“Generally speaking, when choosing these pictures of construction instruments, we had in mind not migrant workers, but simply helpers. They are helpful illustrations, characters in the booklet, like Clippy in the [Microsoft Office] computer program. And not a single migrant complained to us about this. […] We wanted our project to show that [migrant workers] should be treated as people, not as a labor force,” said Panfilov.

One aspect of the scandal that has so far gone unnoticed by Petersburg media is that the manual was, apparently, published with financial assistance from the Danish NGO DanChurchAid, as indicated by the acknowledgements in the manual’s colophon.

According to a statement on its web site, DanChurchAid’s mission is to “help and be advocates of oppressed, neglected and marginalised groups in poor countries and to strengthen their possibilities of a life in dignity.” Among its programs is one focused on providing relief to “poor migrant workers” from Central Asia and the “fight against HIV/AIDS” amongst such workers.

Is DanChurchAid aware of the content of the “Manual for Migrant Workers,” apparently published with its financial support? If it is aware of this content, does it believe that depicting “poor migrant workers” as construction tools is consistent with own mission?

We urge our readers to contact DanChurchAid for answers to these questions:

DanChurchAid
Nørregade 15
DK-1165 Copenhagen K
Denmark

Email: mail@dca.dk
Phone: +45 3315 2800
Fax: +45 3318 7816

Central Asia Regional Representative
Tatiana Kotova
Email: tk.russia@dca.dk

UPDATE. A reader has alerted us to the fact that the .pdf files of the manual have subsequently been removed from the Petersburg city hall web site. Here they are, in all four language versions, for downloading.

vostok-zapad-rus

vostok-zapad-kyrg

vostok-zapad-uzb

vostok-zapad-tadj

 

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Filed under immigration, international affairs, racism, nationalism, fascism, Russian society

Pyotr Prinyov: “If you want to spit on your future, spit on a migrant worker”

anticapitalist.ru

Pyotr Prinyov: “If you want to spit on your future, spit on a migrant worker”

Pyotr Prinyov is one of the most prominent figures in the Petersburg protest movement. You can spot him at rallies held by workers and forest defenders, dormitory residents and students, and before regular union meetings you can catch him reading Martin Heidegger and Eugene Debs. Having started as a labor activist at the company MM Poligrafoformlenie Packaging, Pyotr is now deputy chair of the interregional trade union NovoProf and one of the leaders at the Center for Workers’ Mutual Aid.

— Pyotr, NovoProf is one of the few Russian trade unions that work with migrant workers. Your campaign in support of Petersburg janitors made a big splash. Tell us how it all began and what the situation is now.

— It all started when workers at Evrotrakt approached us and asked help in organizing a trade union local. Evrotrakt is a property management company that also does cosmetic building repairs in [Petersburg’s] Nevsky district. According to rumors, a certain bureaucrat launched this little firm, which was incorporated in the [Leningrad region] village of Gostilitsy. They say that a Petersburg deputy governor oversees the firm.

The trade union local was formed last winter. The situation there is quite difficult: we are dealing with the issues of wages and migrant workers living in the area where they work. When the janitors started to fight for [better] wages and a more or less acceptable workload, eight out of twenty union members were immediately dismissed. They were also evicted from the place where they were living, in a building slated for resettlement.

— You’re saying the building is unfit for habitation?

— Practically speaking, yes. Evrotrakt lures migrants by providing housing; plus, they make some arrangements with the local police or the Federal Migration Service. Apparently, Evrotrakt, which is quite greedy, decided to house migrants from Tajikistan in this building, which it has been contracted to renovate. And make money off them in the process. Around two hundred people live in the building, ten to twelve people to a flat. There is no running water, and often there is no electricity and heat, as was the case this winter. Just today, we talked with Sevara, one of the activists. They offered to let her an apartment in this building for twenty thousand rubles, although the local council owns the apartment.

— What sort of wages do the janitors make?

— They’re ridiculous. According to the employer, they amount to fifteen thousand rubles a month [approx. 375 euros], but the real wage is much lower. And they have an entire thriving system of penalties [for infringement of work rules] in place. There are months when the workers take home six or seven thousand rubles [approx. 150 to 175 euros] – and this for people living in Petersburg! People are basically starving. Some of them pick leaves from trees to brew “tea.” The workday lasts from dawn to dusk, and they are forced to work on weekends. And they are constantly being conned when it comes to registration [with the Federal Migration Service] and work invitations.

— How are they conned?

— [Employers] use shady firms that ostensibly do the paperwork for the migrant workers, but really just fleece them of ten thousand rubles each [approx. 250 euros]. Then, when their documents are checked [by police or migration officials], it turns out they are fake. People disappear, and new ones arrive to take their place. Migrants are an easy target for law enforcement, and this is beneficial to employers. It is quite easy to force migrants to work a lot and for free or to get rid of undesirables. Especially if you have the right connections.

— Is the situation like this only at Evrotrakt?

— No, this is a quite typical situation. Two busloads of Tajiks are loaded up and taken to a construction site. The first week, they are give ramen noodles to eat; the second, they get nothing. And then they are told, “Beat it! We’re not going pay you. Be grateful we gave you back your passports.”

In fact, this is slavery, but no one pays any mind. Any law enforcement agency needs facts that are backed up by paperwork. But what sort of paperwork could there be in this case? You have to go to the work sites and actually check out what is going on.

— Does corruption play a big role in this business?

— Evrotrakt has close ties with law enforcement agencies, and with the prosecutor’s office. When the migrants filed a complaint with the prosecutor’s office, the owner of the firm, apparently imagining he was the Lord God, rang up our janitors and said, “Why are you complaining about me? I have everything under control. You won’t get anywhere.”

The previous company, Lyuks-servis, which Evrotrakt squeezed from the market, was also not known for its philanthropy. Thanks to Memorial [Anti-Discrimination Center], they were fined one and a half million rubles [approx. 38,000 euros] for employing illegal aliens. But Evrotrakt is still fighting this [outcome]. For some reason, the authorities are turning a blind eye. We’ve already taken one case, asking for the fired workers to be reinstated, to court. This is the first step.

—  Does the firm work under a government contract?

— Not under a government contract, but through the tender system. Because they work cheaply, they win bids [for provision of services]. And they work cheaply because they don’t pay wages to their workers, and when they do pay them, it is only enough to buy ramen noodles, which the workers have to wash down with water from the Neva River.

All this is beneficial for the city authorities since they have a workforce they can use to clean the city cheaply.

— But not very efficiently, as the past winters have shown.

— Who cares about efficiency these days? It is easier to hire several thousand Uzbeks than to purchase decent snow removal equipment. Because you can use those Uzbeks to write off a payroll bill that would be enough for them to live on, socially adapt and get job skills. But why pay them when you can just steal the money?

— How do migrants end up in Russia? Is it a spontaneous process, or is it organized?

—  The workers who come here have already been hyped into thinking they will have a place to live, a job and money. Special runners are sent to recruit this workforce. Most of the people who turn to us are from Tajikistan, where things are the worst in terms of social benefits, wages and hope for the future. There are also lots of people coming from Uzbekistan. As a rule, these are people from rural areas who sign up for a job whatever the pay just to be able to leave. It is not just families that come here, but entire villages. The population there has been reduced to total poverty. But on the other hand, we should realize that these are active people, people willing to pick up stakes in one place and move to another country.

—  How well do the migrants know Russian?

—  In our trade union local [for janitors], only three people speak Russian. This is one of the reasons why exploitation of migrants is so advantageous. Tajiks and Uzbeks will not go and file a complaint, simply because they cannot speak Russian. In the slave-trading states they come from, Russian is a nearly forgotten language: it is not taught [in schools] at all. The employer communicates with workers through so-called foremen, who are paid a bit more and have managerial ambitions. A “foreman” of this sort can pocket a portion of the payroll, thus bypassing the boss.

— There have been repeated attempts to create trade unions for migrant workers, but they failed. How do you view the work of organizing foreign workers?

— I see a great future here, but there is one “but.” It should not be a trade union of migrant workers, but a trade union that defends the interests of workers whether they are migrant workers or not. Migrant workers must be included in existing trade union organizations. The trade unions themselves must do this in order to obtain normal industry-wide pay rates for labor and develop their trades normally, rather than relegating them to the level of menials, as we see, for example, in the case of roofers.

At NovoProf, we are now developing a whole program for working with immigrants. Our union basically covers the food industry, one of those sectors where foreign workers are employed. We want to involve migrant workers in the trade union struggle. Otherwise, sooner or later spontaneous riots will kick off, which will scare the local population and play into the hands of nationalists.

— It is argued that migrant workers are an evil, because they take jobs away from Russians. What do you think?

— This is nonsense! The people who make this argument pay no attention to the job market or what is happening around them. Migrants are mostly employed as unskilled laborers, unlike Russians, who usually do not aspire to work as janitors and construction workers. What, if we up and closed the borders right now, the Sukhorukovs and Bondariks [well-known local nationalists] would rush off to work on a construction site or go clean courtyards?

— Why, then, is the topic of migrant workers nowadays such a red flag for many people, including workers?

— These workers do not realize that if you just remove the migrant workers, the niche for slave labor and semi-slave labor will not go away. Our own fellow citizens will fill it. So, if you want to spit on your future, spit on a migrant worker.

Unfortunately, our society has lost the culture of internationalism that existed in Soviet times. I remember very well the attitude to people from other republics in the Kursk region, in the village where I grew up. A lot of families from the south came to our village when the Soviet Union collapsed and the bloodbath began. They were seen as perfectly decent people.

People do not realize that there is this whole policy to ensure that workers fear workers just like themselves who have come from another country. While workers are busy fighting fellow workers across ethnic lines, they are not fighting their immediate exploiters.

It is not profitable for employers to create decent social head starts for the younger generation, so that people not only achieve a certain level of consumption, but also have the opportunity to realize themselves. I guess as long as capitalism exists, this will always be the case. Because it is much more complicated to extract profit from a literate, educated person.

May 21, 2012 — Russian Socialist Movement

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Russia, The Land of Opportunity: A Migrant Labor Board Game

Russia, The Land of Opportunity board game is a means of talking about the possible ways that the destinies of the millions of immigrants who come annually to the Russian Federation from the former Soviet Central Asian republics to earn money play out.

Our goal is to give players the chance to live in the shoes of a foreign worker, to feel all the risks and opportunities, to understand the play between luck and personal responsibility, and thus answer the accusatory questions often addressed to immigrants – for example, “Why do they work illegally? Why do they agree to such conditions?”

On the other hand, only by describing the labyrinth of rules, deceptions, bureaucratic obstacles and traps that constitute labor migration in today’s Russia can we get an overall picture of how one can operate within this scheme and what in it needs to be changed. We would like most of all for this game to serve as a historical document.

Olga Zhitlina

You can download a .pdf file of the game here: Russia, Land of Opportunity Board Game

Russia, The Land of Opportunity: A Migrant Labor Board Game

The game is designed for adults and children of secondary school age.

From 2 to 6 players

The characters, situations, and monetary amounts (fines, payments, bribes, etc.) are not fictional. Any resemblance to actual events is not coincidental. Each year, thousands of people are victimized by the system outlined here.

Rules

To play you need dice, counters, paper and pens.

The dice should have two sets of numbers from 1 to 3. If you have regular dice numbered 1 to 6, and you roll a 4, 5 or 6, subtract three from the number you have rolled.

Instead of counters, you can use any small object – coins, SIM cards or buttons.

Have paper and a pen handy to write down your income and expenses.

Spaces and Moving around the Board

Each space represents one move.

The diamond-shaped spaces are required. You must pass through them in the direction indicated by the arrows.

The square- and rectangular-shaped spaces are playable. You move around the board by throwing a die: the number you roll determines the number of spaces you move forward. If the number you roll is greater than the number of playable spaces in front of you, you must go to the next required (diamond-shaped) space.

If there is a dice symbol in front of the space where you are located, roll a die and move along the arrow marked with the number that the corresponds to the number you have rolled.

If there is a circle symbol in front of you, you must yourself choose one of the spaces indicated by the arrows.

If you land on a space marked Police:

  • and you have a valid work permit, speak Russian, and know your rights, you are released and free to make your next move;
  • and you have a valid work permit, but you do not speak Russian, then you must skip one turn and pay 1,000 rubles;
  • and you have an invalid work permit, you skip one turn and pay 3,000 rubles;
  • and you have a fake entry/exit stamp in your passport, you must go to the space marked Prison.

If you land on a space marked FMS (Federal Migration Service) Raid:

  • and you have a valid work permit and speak Russian, you skip one turn;
  • and you have a valid work permit, but do not speak Russian, you skip one turn and pay 5,000 rubles;
  • and you have a fake work permit, you skip one turn and pay 5,000 rubles;
  • and you have a fake entry/exit stamp in your passport, you go to the space marked Prison.

Actors, Agencies, and Documents

Migration Card. A document confirming that the migrant (or foreigner traveler) has crossed the Russian Federation border. It is filled in, for example, on board an airplane or at an airport upon arrival. It is valid until the newly arrived migrant goes through the registration procedure.

Registration (notification of arrival). Migrants must register at their place of residence in the Russian Federation. Registration is valid for ninety days.

Work Permit. A document confirming that a migrant has the right to work for a specific legal entity in a particular job as stipulated by the foreign labor recruitment quota. By law, work permits can be issued only by the Federal Migration Service. A yearlong work permit entitles the migrant to obtain a residence permit for the entire period (and thus not have to exit and re-enter the country every ninety days).

Private Employment Agencies. The “services” provided by such agencies are widely advertised, for example, in the Tajik media. These agencies promise to provide migrants with all necessary documents and find them work in Russia. They are renowned for engaging in fraud, cheating migrants, and exposing them to the risk of ending up as virtual slaves or being overworked.

Foremen. (In Russian, “brigadiers.”) The foreman is the leader of a group of migrant workers. He or she is someone who has already been to Russia, or a friend or relative. The foreman handles the processing of documents, and finds and organizes work and housing for the migrants, for which services he or she takes a cut from the total income earned by the “brigade.”

Middlemen.  In Petersburg, there are a numerous semi-legal intermediary firms that offer migrant workers such services as processing of work permits and residence permits, and assistance in passing medical board exams. In reality, they often issue fake documents or simply take money for their services without providing any documents at all. While migrants wait for these documents, the residence registration period usually expires and they find themselves living in Russia illegally. However, sometimes these firms do arrange for legal work permits, which indicates that these firms have unofficial connections with the Federal Migration Service, the only government agency authorized to issue such documents. Ninety percent of migrants make use of the services of such intermediaries.

Outsourcing (Outstaffing) Companies. These are employment brokerage firms engaged in the hiring of foreign workers for lease to large companies (retail chains stores, petrol stations, etc.). Formally, these firms are the migrant worker’s legal employer and they pay him or her a wage from the commissions received from the real employer. As a result, the legal relationship between employer and employee is violated. This scheme allows large companies to evade taxes, save on social benefit payments, and exploit migrant workers by introducing a long working day (up to sixteen hours a day) with no sick leave and holidays, and a system of illegal fines (for imaginary “disciplinary” violations). Outsourcing companies dispose of the wages of thousands of people as they wish. It is typical for them to pay employees not every thirty days, but every forty-five days. The amount of back wages they owe to workers constantly grows, and it is not paid out when workers are dismissed.

Diasporas.  Fraternal associations of people from the same region, country or ethnic group. Diaspora leaders may offer mediation services for a fee.

Human Rights Groups. These organizations offer pro bono legal assistance to migrants and monitor the human rights situation in general.

Migrant Detention Centers. Special facilities for persons subject to expulsion or deportation from the Russian Federation due to loss of identity documents. Migrants can be held in such facilities for up to a year.

“Legal Services.” A form of corruption practiced by Interior Ministry (police) and Federal Migration Service officials on migrants awaiting expulsion or deportation. For a certain “fee” (that is, a bribe ranging from 30,000 to 70,000 rubles), corrupt officials offer to simply release the migrants or the chance to “appeal” the decision to expel them.

Russia, The Land of Opportunity board game was designed by:
Andrei Yakimov (human rights consultant, concept development)
Olga Zhitlina (idea, concept development)
Alexander Lyakh, Galina Zhitlina (board game design)
David Ter-Oganyan (drawings)
Tatyana Alexandrova, Nadezhda Voskresenskaya (graphic design)

_____

Olga Zhitlina and Andrei Yakimov (Memorial Anti-Discrimination Center, Saint Petersburg) will present Russia, The Land of Opportunity, discuss the realities behind the game, and play with all comers at Cafe-Club Artek (Mokhovaya ul., 27/29) in Petersburg tonight at 8:00 p.m. The evening will also include a screening of two videos by the Factory of Found Clothes (Natalya Pershina-Yakimanskaya aka Gluklya and Olga Egorova aka Tsaplya), Utopian Unemployment Union No. 1 and Utopian Unemployment Union No. 3, both of which involve contemporary dancers and migrant workers.

The evening is part of the series of actions around the world coordinated by Immigrant Movement International, Queens Museum of Art, and Creative Time in New York to mark December 18, International Migrants Day.

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