Migrants Said to Face Serious Abuses

Migrant construction workers are routinely exploited by employers and harassed by the police, and the economic crisis will probably make their lives worse, Human Rights Watch said in a report released Tuesday.

Russia is home to one of the world's largest migrant populations, second only to the United States, according to the World Bank. More than 40 percent of the country’s 4 million to 9 million migrant workers are employed in construction.

The exploitation of migrant workers became widespread as Russia posted phenomenal economic growth over the past eight years, said a co-author of the report, Maria Lisitsyna.

Russian employers often do not give labor contracts to the migrant workers and confiscate their passports, forcing them to work without wages, the report says. Without identification papers and a labor contract, a worker cannot receive medical treatment after an accident.

Vladimir V., a 27-year-old welder from Kyrgyzstan, told HRW that his employer refused to call a doctor when he fell on a nail from two meters, piercing his abdomen.

The Federal Labor and Employment Service registered 1,076 fatal accidents on construction sites in 2007. Many such accidents are never investigated.

Most migrant workers at Russian construction sites are from Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and other former Soviet states with a free-visa regime with Russia. They come looking for jobs and money that they can't find in their homelands.

Workers told HRW that they are often beaten by the police and sometimes forced to work on police stations and other buildings.

Dastan D., a resident of Kyrgyzstan, told HRW that the police had forced him to do work for them or their friends under threats of physical harm.

“Whether it’s employers trying to intimidate their workers, police roughing them up during a shakedown or hate-motivated attacks by regular citizens, migrant workers are vulnerable at almost every turn,” said Jane Buchanan, researcher in the Europe and Central Asia division of HRW and a co-author of the report.

The report — titled “‘Are You Happy to Cheat Us?’ Exploitation of Migrant Construction Workers in Russia” — is based on 146 interviews with migrant workers who worked in 49 Russian cities and towns from 2006 to 2008.

HRW sees an increasing risk of exploitation from employers and the police. Migrant workers, who receive little protection from the government, are vulnerable to violence from unemployed Russians, the report says.

Construction sites have laid off workers because of the crisis, and many Russians fear that jobless migrants will contribute to an increase in crime, Lisitsyna said.

"The crisis will spark xenophobia and anti-migration sentiment and violence in society — not from skinhead groups but ordinary men in the street," said Galina Kozhevnikova of Sova Center, a nongovernmental organization that tracks racist violence and is not connected with the HRW report.

Human rights activists accuse President Dmitry Medvedev of fueling xenophobia at a meeting with police officials last week. Medvedev told the meeting, "While the labor market is eliminating jobs for migrant workers, illegal employment crime will possibly increase."