Chinese, Tajik Vendors Anticipate Troubles Ahead

Walking briskly through the concrete corridors of Cherkizovsky market, Lin Qisong gesticulates wildly, barely containing his anger.

Lin, 34, is one of many Chinese and Tajik vendors who come here everyday to hawk their wares from white, metal stalls. Soon, these people, selling everything from T-shirts to handbags to exotic pastries, will be shut down by authorities. "Next year?" Lin says, when asked what he plans to do. "How can I talk about next year?"

The vendors at Cherkizovsky, where stalls run between $10,000 and $50,000, are just a handful of the salesmen nationwide being cut out of marketplaces.

According to Federal Migration Service figures, there are 10.2 million migrants working illegally in the country, and another 1.3 million working legally.

To curb illegal migrant workers, Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov in November decreed that by April 1, vendors without Russian citizenship have to be out of all marketplaces in the country.

Meanwhile, a bill stipulating that at least 20 percent of all goods sold in marketplaces must be made in Russia is slated for a second reading Friday at the State Duma. The bill is expected to pass.

Caught up in the rush to impose order on marketplaces are thousands of people like Lin Qisong, who inhabit an often murky, legally dubious world fraught with uncertainty.

Hushe, 20, from Dushanbe, Tajikistan, said he'd heard about Russians taking over the marketplace after April. "There's nothing to be afraid of," said Hushe, declining to give his last name. "If they chase us out, we'll go home."

Surush, 26, from Tajikistan's southeastern region of Gorno-Badakhshan, echoed Hushe. So did a nearby 39-year-old Tajik selling samsa and chebureki, pastries often filled with potatoes or meat.

Lin was less sanguine. His stall reels in up to $30,000 in revenues monthly, he said. But it's unclear where he'll be making a living after April comes. He said he might move in with his sister and brother, who live in Japan.

"We're all the same," said Hushe, "Russians, foreigners, what's the difference? It would be nice if we could work together."

Staff Writer Carl Schreck contributed to this report.