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A “paper curtain”

By Svetlana Gamova, Mekhman Garafly and Maria Seleznyova

Next year an unpleasant surprise will be waiting for citizens from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS): They can only travel to Russia with a passport. Russians will get a “present”, too. Yesterday the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs recommended to all of us to apply for a passport (…). The cause is: From January 1st, 2005, “identity papers, birth certificates and other departmental certifications will lose its validity for border traffic”.

It is still difficult to picture all consequences of these innovations, but it seems that the toughening of the regime does not end with the passports. The Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs is planning mass deportations of illegal migrants, and in order to do so the Moscow region already forms deportation camps.

It’s probably an accidental coincident, that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs made this announcement on the second day of the meeting of the intergovernmental forum “Budapest process” in St. Petersburg. This conference of all member states of the CIS deals with the problems of illegal migration for eleven years now, and aims to prepare a “structured dialogue” on problematic issues with the European Union. Bluntly speaking, it prepares to adapt to the strict Schengen legislation by intensifying border traffic controls little by little. The CIS had inherited the visaless regime from the USSR. The process corresponds to existing laws and even to European standards, only, for citizens of the former Soviet empire it means a second breakdown of the USSR. A trip to Crimea for example, will be more complicated and expensive than a journey to Turkey. On the meeting in St. Petersburg, Andrei Chernenko, director of the Federal Migration Service (FMS) of the Russian Federation, explained the political motivation for the reform.

It sounds like this: The migrants “are the soup, extremist elements are cooking in”. At that even the FMS is not able to estimate how many foreigners immigrate to Russia each year. That’s why many experts take into account the following numbers: Among 20 million people who cross the Russian border, there are about 5 million illegal aliens. One statistic is more decent. It states that last year 350,000 people legally entered the country, the number of non-registered persons, however, is estimated at 3,5 million. Among them there are 30% Ukrainian citizens, 20% Chinese, 10% Turks, 6% Moldavians and 1% Tajiks and Uzbeks.

This semi-official statistic gives evidence of the fact that most of the people, who the introduction of the passport regime will affect, are CIS citizens. Until now, they only need their identity papers for an entry into Russia (except for Georgian and Turkmenian citizens who already for several years need a visa). To get a passport is a complicated technical and bureaucratic procedure in most of the CIS states (it takes some months and a lot of documents). And it is expensive for those who want to work in Russia and for pensioners who would like to visit their children and relatives living abroad.

For millions of people Russia automatically will not only turn into another country but into a country that is far away and difficult to access. While experts so far can only guess the consequences for politics and economy, Diana, who worked as a conductor on the route Kishinev-Moscow, has drawn her own conclusions of what is going on: “When I will be asked for my passport at the border to Russia, that will mean that the Soviet Union has died a second time. When the installation of a border between Moldavia, Ukraine and Russia was discussed”, she explained to our correspondent somewhere near Bryansk, ”I laughed about it. But now, after Beslan, I see - they mean business”.

(…) The new regulation is not the only change the CIS citizens will be confronted with. Next year, the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs starts to deport illegal foreign workers, most of whom are saving money for a life in Moscow. No one knows exactly how many foreigners there are. Everyone knows that they usually work as construction worker, on markets or in the transport business. That means they do the jobs, which Moscowers don’t want to do, either because of the low wages or because of the hard working conditions. Places where many foreigners live shall be “cleaned” by members of the law-enforcement agencies. Therefore the Ministry of Internal Affairs gave the order “About the organization of activities of the organs of internal affairs of the Russian Federation and the Federal Migration Service for the deportation of foreign citizens and stateless persons out of the Russian Federation”.

(…) in spite of all these barriers, the stream of migrants will further increase: in the first six months of this year more than 2 million foreign citizens and stateless persons were officially registered, but according to experts, this number does not reflect the real state of affairs.

(…) The governor of the Moscow oblast Boris Gromov announced the formation of the first deportation center for illegal migrants. As far as it is known, it shall be organized in the South of the region between the towns Stupino and Serpukhovo. Besides, in the oblast three further centers are planned, where persons, who are waiting for their deportation, outstay the time, until the corresponding documents have been arranged: and that’s more than one day. So far, before being sent back to their country, those people had to live either in so-called “ob’ezyanniki” (monkey-houses) in police departments or in distribution centers which are a hybrid form between a dormitory and an investigation prison. If the efforts of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Governor Gromov will be successful, thousands if not hundreds of thousand people might “get registered” in such deportation camps. To return to their country means for many of them a life in misery. (…)

The introduction of the passport regime most of all evokes uneasiness in Tajikistan. Moscow confirms that the passport will be obligatory for citizens of all CIS member states. In Kazakhstan, however, there is practically no labor migration, and in Kirgistan identity papers and passports are the same. In Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan and Armenia, one needs a passport anyway to leave the country.

And Tajikistan? Experts remind that the stream of labor migrants to Russia from this country is very large; people travel with identity papers, birth certificate or even army papers. They will be confronted with troubles: According to the Tajikian consulate, 120000 passports have been ordered or already handed out. This will hardly solve the problem: From this country, between 600000 and one million people come to Russia as foreign workers per year. So, the Russian border traffic reform will lead to serious economic and therefore political problems in Tajikistan.

Meanwhile, even after receiving a passport the problems don’t end for Tajiks in Russia. According to the leader of the group “Rodina” (Fatherland) in the Russian State Duma, at present the question of introducing a visa agreement between Russia and Tajikistan is discussed in the parliament, which is connected “to the problem of massive drug traffic from this republic”. (…)

It remains to clarify, which effects a reduced stream of labor migrants, legal as well as illegal, will have on Russia itself. The lack of manpower in Russia is evident; and, in the opinion of experts, it will still increase in the course of time. Within 15 years, as predicted by economists, the lack will reach 20 million people.

Source: Novye Izvestia

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